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Anti-Privatization Strike Underway in South Africa - 2001-08-29


A nationwide strike is under way in South Africa to protest plans to privatize some government-owned enterprises. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU, is warning of more strikes if the government presses ahead with its privatization plans.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions says the strike has affected 65 percent of the national workforce, which would mean that five-and-a-half-million workers heeded the strike call.

In some major centers, such as Johannesburg, streets and stores were much quieter than usual. But public and private sector employers have reported limited support for the strike and say production and services were not severely affected.

The chief executive officer of the South African Chamber of Business, Kevin Wakeford, said industry is doing what it can to minimize the impact of the strike. "We've got to build this country. We can't afford economic breakdown, we can't afford negative investor confidence," he said. "The world spotlight is on us, vis-ŕ-vis Zimbabwe, as well as the world racism conference, and we have to be as constructive as possible and keep the economy going. And that strategy is paying off. We have enough workforce to keep the bulk of the economy's wheels grinding forward."

Tens of thousands of workers attended marches and rallies in major centers across the country - with the largest in Johannesburg, where about 15,000 turned out to hear union leaders speak in the city center.

COSATU has called the strike to protest government plans to privatize state assets worth $15 billion over the next seven years. These include state-owned transportation, telecommunications, and arms manufacturing companies.

The strike is scheduled to end Thursday, but union leaders warn of further protest action if the South African government does not abandon its privatization plans. The government has said the policy is a non-negotiable.

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