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South African Strike Could Affect Next Presidential Race

  • Joe DeCapua

In South Africa, the public service workers strike continues following union rejection earlier this week of the latest government wage offer. However, there’s much going on behind the scenes, not only about a pay hike, but also about political maneuvering within the ruling party and trade unions. The outcome could play a major role in whether Jacob Zuma has another term as South African president.

What next?

VOA reporter Delia Robertson, in Johannesburg, says on the surface, attention is focused on the next round of negotiations.

“At the moment, no further meetings between the government and the public servants unions are expected until Monday. One of the largest unions, which represents health workers, has said it is busy explaining the finer points of the government offer to its members, suggesting perhaps that it’s looking for ways to reconsider its rejection of the government offer,” she says.

Pay and politics

While the government and union workers differ on the size of a pay hike, others are weighing how the walkout can be used for political gain.

Robertson says there are “political elements to the strike, “adding, “These relate specifically to power struggles within the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), and issues around who will lead the party in the future and difficulties among the various factions within the party and the party’s alliance partners.” Those partners include the powerful trade unions.

This time of year is typically considered South Africa’s “strike season.” But this time it’s particularly stormy, with between 500,000 and one million workers on strike.

Robertson says the difficulty in finding a resolution “comes back, I think, in a measure at least, to these factional disputes within the ruling alliance. There are people…who are working towards removing Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC and of the government come 2012, 2013.”

Later this month, the ANC holds its mid-term meeting in Durban.

“There [are] a lot of…factions putting themselves in kind of positions as to where they’re going to vote and who they’re going to support at this meeting,” she says.

It’s politics at the highest level, she says, “and pressure for power.”

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