General Strike In South Africa

Cosatu members marching in Pretoria during the general strike

BOTH COSATU (the Confederation of South African Trade Unions) and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) have vowed to bring the country to a halt, as they marched and picketed against state capture, corruption and gender-based violence (GBV) on Wednesday.

The two federations embarked on joint protests in several big and small towns to also express their disgust with the government – for failing to implement the long awaited salary increases for public servants.

This is under conditions where, in just the recent period, more than two million South African workers have lost their jobs.

On Tuesday Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said, his ‘federation will hold different kinds of protests, ranging from marches to government buildings (and) premiers’ offices, and others will march to different police stations in the country to protest against GBV and the need for law enforcement agencies to act swiftly against perpetrators’.

Earlier, Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali encouraged the workforce in the public and private sectors to join their strike action. ‘We need to take a stand and push back against this flagrant theft of taxpayers’ money and the disgraceful abandonment of the working class by policy makers and decision makers,’ Ntshalintshali said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on Tuesday. On that same day Cosatu outlined its national strike activities, revealing that its main protest action focused on Pretoria.

On Wednesday, the gathering took place at Burgers Park, and a motorcade lead the protest to the National Treasury’s office on Church Street, to hand over a memorandum.

The protesters then moved to Francis Baard Street to hand over a memorandum to the Employment and Labour Department.

In Johannesburg, the gathering began at Cosatu House in Braamfontein and moved to the Chamber of Commerce. Then, later on, to the office of Gauteng Premier David Makhura and to the Mineral Council Office in the Joburg CBD.

According to the agreed activities, only 60 cars were permitted and each car was allowed to carry three passengers. ‘All the cars must have a sign which will indicate that it is from Cosatu and, as in accordance with the current directives, a car that carries five people (with) only three passengers is allowed,’ the programme stated.

In other regions of Gauteng, protesters held pickets at different shopping malls, while others marched to their respective mayoral offices to demand jobs and an end to corruption. Saftu also held similar marches – one at Mjantshi House – Transnet headquarters in Joburg CBD, and another march to Makhura’s office.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the main picket was held at the provincial police headquarters. The protesters gathered at Curries Fountain Stadium. Other regions marched to their respective municipal and district council offices.

In Cape Town, the motorcade began at Langa Multi-Purpose Sport Centre. The motorcade departed from Langa via the N2 towards the city’s Hertzog Boulevard where a memorandum was handed to the City of Cape Town.

Later, the motorcade moved to the Western Cape provincial legislature where another memorandum was served to Premier Alan Winde. Then the motorcade moved to Parliament to hand over another memorandum.

Similar protests were held at premiers’ offices in other provinces. One of the targets in Mpumalanga was the march to the office of Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane. In the Northern Cape, marchers visited Premier Zamani Saul’s office and later the Mineral Resources Department.

As Cosatu prepared to lead protests against corruption and other issues across the country, its leaders have dismissed suggestions that the action will be detrimental to the economy. In fact, between April and June, 2.2 million South Africans lost their jobs – while the economy recorded a massive decline in the same period.

Speaking to Eyewitness News in a wide-ranging interview, Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the economy was already on its knees and a single day strike will not harm it any further.

‘People that we talk to seem not to be listening,’ Ntshalintshali said. And a stone-faced Ntshalintshali – with a fisted hand to emphasise this point – explained that while Cosatu’s action would not affect the economy as deeply as it ordinarily would due to the Covid-19 pandemic, members had no other option but to withdraw their labour.

He said despite many discussions, government seemed incapable of leading the country out of the crisis that had affected many citizens’ quality of life. ‘In these issues, and unless we do something, it’s (the economy) going to go away anyway and it is better to raise the consciousness of the people now before we lose everything,’ he said.

‘Corruption is now like a cancer. It’s got to a stage that unless something is done, unless the limb that has got that particular disease is cut off, we will lose the whole body,’ he stressed.

And the same labour federation has challenged South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to stop fearing to shake the tables within the ANC, and to put first the interests of South Africans – whom he vowed to serve by leading the country out of its multiple crises.

The federation has been criticising the Ramaphosa administration for months now as the economy continues to plummet, and as corruption thrives under his watch. Wednesday’s action was the first national strike against the Ramaphosa-led government.

Ntshalintshali said they had been perplexed by how Ramaphosa had failed to use his power to dismiss ineffective ministers and other leaders in government who weren’t committed to serving the nation.

He recalled a particular meeting at the National Economic Development and Labour Council, where Ramaphosa told them he was equally frustrated when labour shared its problem with his Cabinet and the failure of the business sector to implement resolutions taken at the Jobs Summit two years ago.

‘We need to go to the president and say if you have problems being your own organisation where you think you are powerless, remember the other 11 million South Africans who are not ANC members (to) whom you took an oath promising to serve them, serve them, and if you are going to be removed, be it so.

‘But you can’t be an accomplice because of your organisation and people unwilling to do something, and that’s where we are,’ Ntshalintshali said.

Despite the overwhelming support and public confidence the president enjoyed when he came into office, more and more South Africans and organisations have taken issue with his failure to fire inept individuals in his administration and those who are suspected of corruption.

Cosatu said it was concerned that while individuals linked to major corruption deals in the state were currently being arrested, it could take a while before anyone is sent to jail.

Numerous business and political leaders were arrested by the Hawks this past week following investigations after they were implicated in evidence presented before the state capture commission.

However, Ntshalintshali said they were concerned about the National Prosecuting Authority’s capacity to handle the cases with the speed required to send the right message to criminals.

‘Our view is that they must move with speed so that when they arrest, they are ready to prosecute,’ he said.

Political experts and several international reports have been ringing the alarm about the accelerating decline of the economy and the state’s inability to perform some of its fundamental functions – with some projecting the country will be a failed state by 2030.

Ntshalintshali told Eyewitness News that while there was a lot that could still be done to save the government and create jobs, the country was edging closer to a failed state. The term refers to a state that ceases to perform its functions, cannot control its national boundaries and is composed of feeble and flawed institutions.

Ntshalintshali explained that a change in trajectory by the government could save the day. ‘We are not there as yet, many fundamental things are in good place in dealing with those particular issues.

‘We are making sometimes the right decisions and fail to implement and sometimes you have ministers working in isolation. When we fail, we fail in a manner that will be a total failure,’ he said.

In fact, just last month, Cosatu described Rama-phosa’s administration as feeble and dysfunctional.