General strike in South Africa

Hundreds of thousands of workers yesterday (Thursday 18th) supported trade union giant Cosatu’s one-day general strike in protest against job losses.

Huge marches brought the central business districts of Johannesburg and Durban to a standstill as police sealed roads and businesses closed shop. The strike also crippled some gold mines and shut numerous schools, but other sectors of the economy were largely unaffected.

Authorities in Cape Town banned a march planned as part of the stoppage after striking security workers rampaged through the city smashing shops and cars two days earlier. At the time of going to press there were no reports of violence during yesterday’s marches. But two Golden Arrow buses were torched before dawn in Khayelitsha by what the bus company claimed were people wearing Cosatu sweaters.

A driver was also assaulted and eight other buses were stoned, the company said. In Johannesburg about 10,000 protesters marched from Beyers Naude Square to several provincial government offices and handed a memorandum to Premier Mbhazima Shilowa and other top officials.

Speaking to thousands of protesters earlier, Cosatu’s secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said low wages, joblessness and poverty had undermined the sacrifices made in the anti-apartheid struggle.

“We fought for democracy in this country, but where is democracy when people are engulfed with poverty and unemployment? The ‘better life for all’ concept promised by the government … should be honoured,” said Vavi. “Four out of 10 people in this country are able to find a job and the rest live in poverty,” he said.

Blade Nzimande, the general secretary of the SACP, told the protest in Johannesburg that if South Africans did not stand up and fight against poverty, job losses and HIV-Aids, then “our revolution is in danger”.

In Durban many thousands of Cosatu marchers brought the city centre to a standstill, causing businesses to close shop. Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said that in East London 3000 workers took part in a march. About 2000 joined a similar protest in Mthatha and about 8000 people attended a rally in Nelspruit.

Another 3000 people reportedly attended a Cosatu march in Bloemfontein.

Schooling in KwaZulu-Natal was heavily affected as thousands of members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union supported the strike. Sadtu spokesman Sipho “KK” Nkosi said the union had joined the strike because it had grievances of its own, which included the lack of safety at schools and excessively high pupil-teacher ratios.

In the Eastern Cape, a random survey by the provincial education department showed that schools nearest the protest marches were most affected. Provincial education department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said stayaways of between 80percent and 90percent were reported in schools in Queenstown, East London, Port Elizabeth and Mthatha.

The influence of the strike varied across sectors of the economy. The mining industry appeared to be the hardest hit, followed by car manufacturers and retailers. Chamber of Mines spokesman Elize Strydom said at some mines the absence rate was as high as 100%.

Two of the country’s biggest supermarket chains, Pick ’n Pay and Shoprite, also reported large worker absenteeism.