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South African Transport Strike Strands Commuters, Disrupts Ports

South African rail and port workers embarked on a one-day strike Monday to protest restructuring of the national transport corporation.

Commuters in all major South African cities were left stranded by the strike as some 50,000 transport workers failed to report for duty. The country's busiest harbor, Durban, was also disrupted, but ports in other coastal cities operated normally.

Four unions have called their members out in protest to planned restructuring at Transnet, South Africa's rail and logistics group. Transnet plans to sell off some non-core assets to the government and private buyers. This includes the metro rail networks.

Unions say they have not been adequately consulted and that, as presently constituted, the restructuring will result in the loss of 30,000 jobs. They also want their retirement funds and benefits guaranteed in any transfer.

Both Transnet CEO Maria Ramos and the government have denied that jobs will be lost in the restructuring process, but Exrom Mabyana, president of the S.A. Transport and Allied Workers Union, scoffed at these assurances. He said that unless workers are taken seriously, they will expand their strike action.

"If there is no response, a response that will talk to the workers, we will extend this strike to take four days. This is not because we want to do it, there are managers, few managers who want us to do that," said Mabyana. "Anybody who wants to ask about the economy of the country, must ask the managers of Transnet because they are making it difficult for the workers not to kill the economy."

Monday's strike follows a series of staggered work stoppages across the country last month which economists say have already cost the country $48 million.