- The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, has been tormented by the intimidation being meted out to unwilling public sector workers by their striking colleagues.
He outrightly condemned the act and asked the striking workers to respect the right of their colleagues.
The South African leader would not sick back and see the homes of unstriking workers being petrol-bombed. One teacher who reportedly refused to join the strike had his home touched by a petrol bomb.
He reminds strikers to be careful of not building a polarised society for the future generations of a country seen as Africa’s economic and democratic giant.
"All of us should ask ourselves what kind of society we are building and what moral lessons we are imparting when insults, violence against fellow workers and damage to property become the stock-in-trade during protests of this kind?" Mbeki asked.
Under the aegis of the main trade unions, South African strikers today return to the streets in what is seen as an attempt to completely shut down the entire activities of the public sector.
The biggest strike in South Africa’s 13 year old democratic history has attracted thousands of workers. It has halted traffic to a standstill, resulting to transport crisis in the country’s major and economic cities.
The strikes have been mounted after the government and trade unions deadlocked on salary increase. The unions have rejected the government’s 7.25% offer, insisting for a 12% increase, which would ensure better living standards for the health sector workers.
Over 40 solidarity marches have been organised country-wide by trade unions. In most cases, strikers attired in red and yellow T-shirts to symbolise the dangers attach to the complete shut down of the day-to-day routine of the public sector. They marched through the streets chanting union and solidarity songs.
Security has been tight in major cities in the country as both police and army have been put on the alert to monitor strikers.
In Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital, the strikers have been advised by the police not to thread along the city centre where at least 2,000 red T-shirt dressed teachers gathered.
Businesses along the city centre route have also been advised to close as early as 4 pm, the police spokesperson, Edna Mamonyane, confirmed.
In Cape Town, the capital of Western Cape, strikers mounted marches that led to the parliament. .
Similar strikes were conducted in Pretoria as well. .
The colour of the strike turned sour after the government ran out of patience and decided to fire over 600 health workers while slashing the salaries of protected workers under the pretext “no work no pay”.
But analysts said this had only aggravated the already tense situation. It has deadlocked the negotiations between the unions and the government.
Unionists have questioned the government’s approach to negotiations, arguing that there is absolute need for the creation of a favourable environment for meaningful talks. Unless the sacked nurses are reinstated, the unions are not interested in any negotiations with the government.
Willy Madisha, President of the umbrella Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said the Wednesday strike will halt public service operations and shock the economy.
The body is optimistic that at least two million workers will not go to work.
Cosatu has been the main partner of the ruling African National Congress. Its action has been interpreted as adding fuel to the party’s internal infights as it sets to choose a leader.
The union is said to be a strong backer of the deposed deputy President, Jacob Zumb, who has fallen apart with Mr Mbeki. Since his sacking, Zuma has been embroiled in legal battles with the state. Mr Zuma returned to the dock in Durban last week.
Some people believe that there is a different smoke behind the salary increase because the government’s offer of 7.25% is undoubtedly attractive.
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