Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 18:37 UK

S Africa power firm faces strike

Powerlines in South Africa
There are fears a strike at Eskom could disrupt the supply of electricity

Workers at South Africa's biggest electricity firm are threatening to go on strike in a move that could cause huge disruption to power supplies.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says its 16,000 workers at Eskom will walk out next week if their demand for a 14% pay rise is not met.

The firm says it generates 95% of South Africa's electricity.

The country has been hit by several strikes recently with workers demanding and often receiving huge pay rises.

The strikes combined with sometimes violent protests are seen as the main challenges facing President Jacob Zuma, who came to power in May.

'Down to the masses'

NUM spokesperson Shane Choshane told BBC that negotiations with Eskom had failed and the union was now planning a strike.

Municipal workers striking in Cape Town, 29/07
The country has been ravaged by strikes recently

"We are in the process of applying for the relevant documentation, which will declare our action as legal," he said.

The firm operates 11 coal-fired power stations, Africa's only nuclear-powered plant and other smaller power stations.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani, in Johannesburg, says there has been an eagerness to see how Mr Zuma would address his first real challenge since his inauguration.

Residents in poor areas have staged protests in recent weeks, angry that they are still without basic services such as water and electricity 15 years after the African National Congress (ANC) came into power.

Mr Zuma's response has been to pay personal visits to affected areas to get personal accounts of people's grievances.

Our correspondent says Mr Zuma's strategy of "coming down to the masses" could be what South Africa's poor communities are looking for, a sense that Mr Zuma's administration will do what it has promised - improve the lives of the poor.

But he has to contend with fulfilling his promises to the electorate in the backdrop of South Africa's first recession in 17 years.

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