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South Africa Workers Strike Strains Unions – ANC Relationship

  • Douglas Mpuga

A strike by South African teachers, nurses and other public-sector workers is in its 19th day after the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s biggest labor federation, rejected an increased wage offer.

South African schools will remain shut and hospitals and courts disrupted until at least Sept. 6 while striking public-sector workers debate a government wage offer, according to a statement by the largest labor union federation.

In the Western Cape, a lot of schools have come to a standstill and services at hospitals have been compromised, said Braam Hanekom, the Chairperson, PASSOP (People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty) a Cape Town-based NGO.

He said contrary to the assertions of the leadership of the Western Cape the region has been affected by the strike.

“There has been a rejection of the latest offer,” said Hanekom, adding “they (Unions) have called for a meeting with the president. There was even debate whether they should meet the president or his deputy because some of the Unionists were at pains to express that they no longer see the president – Jacob Zuma - as their darling as they did in 2007.”

The relationship (between the Unions and ANC – the ruling party) is under a lot of pressure, he said. “Even the Secretary General of ANC has expressed doubt about the tripartite alliance – the alliance of the South African Communist Party, COSATU and ANC.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions was pivotal in President Jacob Zuma’s rise.

“It is a political issue,” emphasized Hanekom, ‘In any country where the trade union is part of the leadership when a strike happens and the government refuses to meet the demands of the workers inevitably it is a political issue.”

Hanekom expressed hope that government will relent and increase the offer to the workers. “Whether or not the Unions will be willing to lower their demands is not certain but government are likely to increase their offer which has already been increased twice.”

He noted that in the interim immigrants have been affected as those that are not union members are afraid to go to work since they may be seen as undermining the strike and be targeted. “So they [immigrants] are forced to offer solidarity although some of them are union members.”

Hanekom described the situation in the health sector as serious citing an incident two weeks ago when the minister of health had an eighteen hour work shift in a hospital.

In Durban, Sunday was quiet as people had hoped they would go back to work on Monday, said Suleman Mugula, an independent political analyst. “Unfortunately as of now the unions have finished meeting their members and they have rejected the government offer.

He said the government has sent in members of the defense forces to help in hospitals with emergency care and other services, and “many doctors are there [in hospitals] they are not on strike but they don’t have support staff.
Mugula said business in general is slow because of this strike and since transportation is also affected every other sector has been impacted.

The strikes have disrupted output at a time when the economy is struggling to gain momentum after last year’s recession, its first in 17 years.