of public service unions and the government have resumed negotiations aimed at ending the crippling strike by South African public servants. President Jacob Zuma ordered his ministers back to the negotiating table.

Mr. Zuma held emergency talks with his ministers late Sunday, and ordered a resumption of talks with unions representing public servants. The president's spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, told the eNews Channel that Mr. Zuma made it plain the 13-day strike that has shut down schools and hospitals across the country cannot continue.

"Let us put the interests of the country first, and the people," said Kodwa. "We can't allow babies dying in hospitals because of our disagreement; we can't allow disruption of school and learning because of our sectoral interests."

Mr. Zuma has been stung by mounting criticism that he left the country for six days on a state visit to China during the strike. He has also been the focus of much criticism from union members, traditionally allies of his party, the African National Congress.

The strike has hurt government services across South Africa, with hospitals and schools most severely affected.

Even though nurses are prohibited from striking, the government has been forced to deploy more than 3,500 military medics to 57 state hospitals.

In some cases, patients have been denied entry to hospitals, or simply abandoned. AIDS patients have had their treatment interrupted, which could eventually cause the treatment to fail.

State schools across the country are closed, causing concern among students and parents that some will have to repeat the year.

Economists are warning of the long-term economic effects. They say it will take at least three years for the approximately one million workers affected to make back lost income, and that in turn will mean reduced revune for businesses across the country.

They say this will slow South Africa's gradual recovery from the recession, and result in the creation of fewer jobs. South Africa's unemployment rate is 25 percent.

Public servants want an 8.6 percent pay increase, along with a housing allowance of $133 per month; the government has offered 7 percent and $93.