South Africa: Public sector strike highlights post-apartheid’s contradictions

By Patrick Bond

August 22, 2010 -- The two major civil service unions on strike against the South African government have vowed to intensify pressure in coming days, in a struggle pitting more than a million members of the middle and lower ranks of society against a confident government leadership fresh from hosting the World Cup.

Along with many smaller public sector unions, educators from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and nurses from the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) continued picketing schools, clinics and hospitals, leading to widespread shutdowns starting on August 18. Skeleton teams of doctors and military personnel were compelled to send non-emergency cases home.

In several confrontations with police at town centres, clinics and schools late last week, workers were shot with rubber bullets and water cannon. On August 21, the courts enjoined workers to return to jobs considered “emergency services”. In dozens of hospitals and clinics, military health workers took over.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma threatened mass sackings and attacked labour movement activists who successfully disrupted health and education facilities: “Even during the campaigns against the apartheid government we did not prevent nurses from going to work”, the leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) stated. The South African Communist Party (SACP) issued a statement defending the strikers but requested the labour movement and ANC desist from “flinging irritable insults at each other, while the private sector and anti-worker elements sit back and laugh”.

Money for World Cup, not for workers

Notwithstanding reasonably high popularity enjoyed by the affable Zuma, recent reports about vast profits in “black economic empowerment” deals for his son, nephew and inner-circle allies are raising anger. Moreover, NEHAWU’s press statement lambasted Pretoria’s hedonistic state managerial class: “We read on a daily basis government’s wasteful expenditure on World Cup tickets, cars, hotels, parties and advertising.”

Indeed, Pretoria subsidised the World Cup to the tune of $5 billion, by most estimates, including more than $3 billion on stadiums that are now widely recognised as “white elephants”, unable to fill the stands and too expensive for the weakly supported local soccer teams. (Even cricket and rugby teams which attract more fans are hesitant to move from their current world-class venues.) Corporations sponsoring the soccer tournament took home more than $4 billion in profits, tax free without exchange controls.

During June-July, South Africa displayed to foreign visitors and television audiences an opulence that belied its increasingly stressed economy and extreme inequality. The recovery from a 2 per cent GDP decline in 2009 is faltering, with 3 per cent announced growth this year widely derided, as the first half of 2010 witnessed continuing job losses. More than 1 million of the 13 million workers in South Africa’s formal economy have lost their jobs since 2008.

In spite of the pressure, workers have become surprisingly militant, winning above-inflation wage settlements from the state-owned transport and electricity utilities in recent weeks, assisted by pressure they wielded before and during the World Cup. With inflation at 4.5 per cent, the government’s latest offer of a 7 per cent annual increase plus a $25 rise in the monthly housing allowance (to $90) would ordinarily be a strong settlement.

Some unions would be happy with a 8.6 per cent raise and a increase to $130 a month for housing assistance, but NEHAWU’s demands are much higher, including an 11 per cent wage increase (backdated three months) and a $195 housing allowance, as well equality in the state medical aid subsidy.

The cabinet responded on August 18: “We had to make a choice between increasing the salary bill to unaffordable levels by meeting the union demands and cutting other urgently needed services. It’s a choice between improving the wages of state employees and continuing to address the service delivery needs of poor communities and the unemployed.”

In addition to higher taxes on business and the rich (which had fallen sharply from 1994 levels thanks to four neoliberal finance ministers), unions point out other places that state waste and corporate subsidies could be cut. Vast spending on infrastructure has come under strong criticism, especially given that the four major components – two new coal-fired power plants ($35 billion) financed partly by the World Bank, a ($3 billion) fast-train from the Johannesburg airport to the main financial district, a ($1 billion) airport in Durban and new (multibillion dollar) dams for big mining and agricultural interests – mainly benefit elites and come at the cost of infrastructure for poor people.

Public transport continues to decay and electricity prices are increasing by 25 per cent each year to pay for the new power plants. Yet two corporations, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, will continue receiving the world’s cheapest electricity (one seventh of the price ordinary workers pay, thanks to 40-year apartheid-era deals). The two consume more than 10 per cent of the country’s electricity, and environmentalists insist on phasing out energy-gorging smelters, foregoing the second power plant and instead investing in renewable energy.

`Labour aristocracy’?

But while the case for a redirection of state funds is strong, the question arises as to whether a potential “labour aristocracy” will enjoy affluence at a time of ongoing job cuts and misery for the unskilled, unemployed masses. The trade unions’ reply is typically that each worker in turn supports large extended families, insofar as apartheid-era migrancy relations still tie South Africans to kinship networks stretching hundreds of kilometres.

To make matters worse, until the mid-1980s, women were compelled through “pass laws” to remain in rural “bantustan” homelands, while their fathers, husbands and sons laboured in the cities, and the more rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in formerly settler-colonial and plantation economies suffering such migrancy is just one lasting inheritance. Once liberation was won, an “insider” status for the urban workers emerged, including perks for housing, healthcare and pensions.

In turn, trade union leaders point out that no other social force in South Africa campaigns so actively for broader socioeconomic rights that benefit the unemployed, such as a proposed National Health Insurance scheme and Basic Income Grant ($15 per person per month) that would reach the most marginalised communities. But the unions are mainly losing these social-wage battles.

The unions’ greatest disappointments with Zuma’s government are its amplification of neoliberal economic policies such as exchange control liberalisation and monetarism (high interest rates), and its failure to ban labour brokers who supply hundreds of thousands of cheap, casualised “outsourced” workers at far lower wages.

In reply, government leaders typically point to a variety of state social grants (pensions, disability and childcare) that have indeed achieved a slightly greater flow of funds to the rural poor. But the most recent authoritative study of poverty, by University of Cape Town researchers in January 2010, showed an absolute increase in urban poverty.


Also reflecting the widening social divides are the several thousand protests that police record each year. Many have flared up spontaneously as localised “service delivery” riots, with results that include vandalism of municipal offices and even xenophobic outbreaks. Unfortunately, no major urban social movement has emerged to capture and channel the frustrations into a sustained, democratic force.

This is mainly due to the residual township loyalty to the ruling ANC, even in these protest-rich communities, and a decade-old split between the (now fading) radical “new social movements” in South Africa’s cities and the ANC. The new movements had hoped that the most left-leaning forces in the SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) would break away from the ANC, but instead they attacked not the ruling party but its leader, former President Thabo Mbeki, replacing him with Zuma. Having thrown him out of power in September 2008, COSATU and the SACP expected more than the handful of marginalised seats they received in the cabinet.

The feeling of betrayal was made explicit in the widely circulated Ruth First Memorial Lecture delivered on August 17 by COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, one of the most radical voices in contemporary South Africa. In 1982, Ruth First was assassinated by an apartheid regime letter bomb while in exile in Maputo.

Vavi paid tribute to First’s politics and prolific campaigning, research and writing: “Her contempt for private ownership of the means of production, for exploitation and for all forms of oppression is evident in all of Ruth First’s undertakings, from her journalistic writings to her scholastic works. National liberation and the defeat of class exploitation were for her two sides of the same coin.”

Then Vavi turned to an unusual narrative, deploying a past hero against present liberation movement’s leaders: “Ruth First would be shocked to learn that 16 years after our emancipation we have not moved decisively away from an economic system she died fighting against. She will seriously ask whether it was worth all the sacrifices she made when she learns that … South Africa (is) now the country with the biggest inequalities in the world.”

Vavi has been hitting raw nerves in the ANC cabinet by regularly scolding Zuma’s closest political allies for corruption, of both a personal and political nature: “What will annoy Ruth First most is that despite this mounting and unfolding catastrophe, she would have heard some of the leaders who were at some point serving with her in the [SACP] Central Committee, assuring private capital, locally and abroad during their endless trips, that the economic fundamentals are in place and the country will stay the course despite mounting evidence that this market fundamentalism is dismally failing humanity.”

First was married to SACP leader Joe Slovo, who by the time of his 1995 death had begun endorsing the ANC’s neoliberal project, especially in the housing ministry he ran. Said Vavi of First, “She would ask where her SACP is, and why it has not led a united working class in a struggle to change the direction we seem to be taking. She would ask where all other democrats have gone to after reading about the proposed Protection of Information Bill that, if it goes through in its current form, will make a mockery of her work as a journalist committed to fighting injustice.”

The top two SACP leaders, Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin, have defended Zuma’s current attacks on the media and access to information, including legislation that would chill South Africa’s scandal-sheet press as well as more serious investigative journalists.

Zuma has long taken a beating in the media because of his numerous personal, financial, sexual and political scandals. His lawyers have filed defamation lawsuits against Jonathan Shapiro, whose brilliant “Zapiro” cartoons depict the president with a showerhead attached to his head, reminding readers of his sex – and alleged rape – with an HIV+ daughter of a family friend.

While a strike settlement favourable to the workers is expected within coming days, given how tough the unions are fighting, the pressures in the economy and society will keep growing. And the wedges now being driven between the ruling partner and its trade union and Communist Party allies will not be easily healed.

[Patrick Bond ( is director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society in Durban.]


Media statement issued by Malesela Maleka, SACP spokesperson

August 22, 2010 -- From the outset of the current public sector strike, the SACP has consistently indicated its support for what we regard as a legitimate struggle for a living wage in the wider context of the struggle for decent work. The SACP also fully agrees with our comrades in COSATU that the wage gap between upper echelons, on the one hand, and the majority of workers, on the other, in the public sector (as in the private sector) is unjustified and unjustifiable.

The SACP also fully agrees with COSATU statements that, in the course of exercising their legitimate right to strike and to picket, workers must avoid any acts of violence and physical intimidation. Life-threatening actions like the invasion of operating theatres, the blocking of access to public emergency services, or the abandonment of new-borns in ICUs are completely alien to the traditions and values of our struggle.

Even during the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, MK operatives, for instance, were instructed at all times to go out of their way to avoid collateral injuries and deaths and even to abort missions when there was a risk of death to innocent civilians. It is the unions themselves that must now take the lead in condemning acts of grave indiscipline which are, in effect, counter-revolutionary, and a serious set-back to the working class struggle. Workers who are involved in counter-revolutionary and anti-people activities, workers who conduct themselves as witting or unwitting agents provocateurs, should be disciplined and if necessary expelled from their unions.

At the same, we also call on our comrades in the police and other law enforcement agencies to conduct themselves with maximum restraint. We call on government and the unions to move speedily to find an effective settlement to the present dispute.

Above all, we call on all of our formations not to play into a right-wing neoliberal agenda that seeks to break the organic and strategic unity between Alliance partners, between organised workers and wider popular forces, and between unions and our democratic state. This means that, from all sides, we need to remain focused on what unites us - our key strategic priorities. When the relationship of our democratic government and public sector workers is reduced to an employer-employee relationship then our revolution is in trouble. Over the past decade-and-a-half the SACP has consistently criticised government (and to some extent the ANC) for often failing to consolidate, mobilise and, indeed, treat, key sectors like teachers and health-care workers as the core protagonists of any genuine democratic transformational programme.

The current strike, and other major strikes this year, have all high-lighted one of many critical challenges we face. It is no accident that in all of these strikes, it is the housing allowance issue that often looms largest in worker demands. The great majority of organised workers, not least those in the public sector – among them police, nurses, teachers – find themselves with a serious housing problem. Most of these workers are trapped in a housing limbo – they do not qualify for state-provided subsidised housing on the one hand, and they are rejected by the banks when they apply for mortgage bonds on the other. Part of an answer may well be to increase housing allowances – but it is doubtful if this, on its own, will ever help to close the grave gap in the housing market.

In this regard, we call on workers to join the SACP in our ongoing financial sector campaign. Let us inject fresh energy into this campaign, and particularly let us engage government and banks, including relevant publicly-owned Development Finance Institutions, to ensure that house-loan policies are transformed, and that there is a massive construction of appropriate mixed-income and well-located housing, including rental housing. The SACP has called for the formation of a dedicated publicly-owned Housing Bank.

Instead of flinging irritable insults at each other, while the private sector and anti-worker elements sit back and laugh, let us, once more, forge a militant strategic unity within our Alliance, and between government and the working class.

Issued by the SACP.


AUGUST 22, 2010

The Young Communist League of South Africa (uFasimba) is concerned with government’s knee jerk reaction to the strike, resorting to instruments such as the court to halt the Public sector mass action. We view this as antagonistic and affirmation that the state still serves and protects class interests of an elite few to the detriment of our people; some of which are enjoying the life of luxury within the public sector itself.

This is in no way a conducive solution for all parties involved. It does not assist in finding a long-term progressive solution which will benefit all stakeholders. Conditions of employment are still severe for most of Public sector workers and yet government has vanity expectations about service delivery from them. Finding petty reasons to deviate from the core problems as demonstrated by Minister Richard Baloyi through his arrogance, will only pro-long mass actions and create further hostile relations between government and workers.

We urge government to consider the ramifications of pro-longing the strike and more importantly take into account our poor masses that only have public services as a means to life. Its highly opportunistic and distorted that workers be blamed as they have the right to demand a decent living wage and protest if need be.

The gap between government senior officials and government workers has become no different from that of the private sector in terms of relations and wages.  This can only create more tensions and stalemates in negotiations.

We re-affirm our unwavering support to workers in the public sector and hope that they will not be deterred by apartheid style antics used to silence them.

Issued by the YCLSA Head office


By Moshoeshoe Monare, Sibusiso Ngalwa and Gcwalisile Khanyile

August 22, 2010

Labour federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party - the one-time left-wing allies of President Jacob Zuma - are at each others' throats, with labour leaders accusing communists of failing to support the crippling public sector wage strike.

Zuma on Saturday expressed anger at the strike, largely driven by Cosatu-affiliated unions, and went to the extent of accusing striking union members of opposing his government the same way they opposed apartheid.

Separate statements from leaders of the tripartite alliance showed increasingly strained relations - a far cry from the Polokwane united front of Zuma, South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande, and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Vavi has increasingly become critical of the Zuma administration, while Nzimande has toned down anti-government rhetoric since he assumed a position in Zuma's cabinet.

In a statement that cast a spotlight on Nzimande's apparently conflicting roles as SACP leader and Higher Education minister, Cosatu said it was extremely unhappy that communist leaders were pre-occupied with their positions in government and failed to do the work of the party. But the SACP shot back, saying the unionists were whining like "hungry babies".

Zuma, on the other hand, told a gathering in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday that the disruption of essential services by workers was "foreign" to the culture of the ANC and the alliance.

"Even during the dark days of (the) liberation (struggle), this never happened. When people were striking, they would still allow a nurse or a doctor to go inside the hospital. They knew how critical it was to save lives and you should bear this in mind," Zuma said.

"You should struggle in a way that also values people's lives so that in future when you embark on a strike, you will still get the same support. Your actions should not bring pain to other people's lives.

"This will taint our history and legacy when you have women giving birth on the street. We cannot afford to deviate from the good values the liberation struggle taught us."

The government won an interdict against violent striking workers on Saturday. Cosatu said it regrets the disruption of services, but it was fully behind the continued strike.

The president of the union federation S'dumo Dlamini on Saturday said Cosatu did not condone acts of violence by the strikers, but the striking public servants were being provoked by management and police officers.

"It is a wake up call to government, that they should stop fuelling the situation by the statements they are making, and instead come up with a revised offer," Dlamini said.

In an earlier interview Dlamini said there was a need for SACP leaders "to dedicate more time to party work, not moonlighting".

All SACP senior leaders have full-time jobs either in government or in the ANC, and this was endorsed by the communist party's special congress last year.

Nzimande's deputy, Jeremy Cronin, is deputy transport minister; party chairman Gwede Mantashe is ANC secretary-general; his deputy Joyce Moloi-Moropa is an ANC MP; and SACP treasurer Pumulo Masaulle is ANC Eastern Cape chairman and an MEC.

Dlamini said there were also concerns that the SACP had been quiet on issues affecting workers and the working class - especially the strike - since its senior leadership joined government.

"I have only seen one statement from the (SACP) on the public sector strike," he said.

But SACP spokesman Malesela Maleka said this was not true. "We issued several statements. Do they want us to issue statements every day?" he asked.

National Union of Mine Workers secretary general Frans Baleni said they were concerned about the SACP's lack of "capacity and its inability to articulate and mobilise".

Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola said they were worried by Nzimande and Cronin's diminished roles in the party. "The SACP is not coming out as strongly in the public as it did in the past," said Majola.

It is not the first time that Cosatu has raised its concerns about the SACP's toned-down attitude.

The labour federation raised this in one of its documents earlier this year, citing Zuma's State of the Nation address - which was fiercely criticised by Cosatu - as an example that the SACP had changed its tune.

However, Maleka said it was "inaccurate" for Cosatu to say the SACP did not react to Zuma's speech. "Is it because they didn't like our reaction?" he said.

"The decision (to send SACP leaders to government) was a collective decision... If the constitutional structures of the SACP need to be reviewed, we will continue to do so... But people cannot whine like hungry babies," he said on Saturday.

Cosatu and the SACP have always been on the same side during alliance tensions, before and after the watershed ANC conference in Polokwane, which propelled Zuma to the helm of the ruling party.

The two have always projected a united front against the so-called nationalists in the ANC who are perceived to be anti-leftist.

The Sunday Independent understands that the root-cause of Cosatu's disenchantment was triggered by their unhappiness about the SACP's positions on policy issues in the alliance.

These include the contentious issue of the centre of power in the alliance.

Cosatu wants to push the ANC to accept that the alliance - and not the ruling party - is the centre of influence on policy and on decisions about key government appointments, while the SACP is luke warm about this.

* This article was originally published on page 1 of The Sunday Independent on August 22, 2010

20th August 2010

The largest local government Union, the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) would like to send its unconditional solidarity and support to the ongoing strike by comrade’s of the Public Sector Unions, who are currently on strike, demanding a meagre 8.6% pay increase and R1000 housing subsidy.

We encourage all Public Sector Unions involved in the strike to continue the strike action indefinitely! We urge the Government to urgently meet with the workers and grant them their reasonable and legitimate demands.

Government must listen carefully to the arguments and demands of our comrades in the Public Sector and grant them the opportunity to earn a decent living wage.

In the absence of any meaningful resolution to the strike, we as SAMWU will have no other option but to extend our solidarity, in the form of joining the protest actions, the same way we did in 2007. If Government does not concede to the workers demands in the Public Sector then we will raise the possibility of solidarity marches, at the COSATU Central Executive Committee meeting scheduled for next week.

We encourage workers from the private sector to also down tools, in solidarity with the Public Sector workers.

We also condemn Police brutality, against the protesting workers and advise the Police to stop antagonising and provoking innocent protestors.

We know from our own experience that a decision to take strike action is not taken lightly. We are confident the employer will bow down to the current pressure of industrial action and grant the workers a decent living wage.

SAMWU is equally affected and concerned about the prevailing situation. As SAMWU we send our solidarity and best wishes to all the Public Sector Unions involved in the strike action and we hope for a speedy and appropriate settlement from Government.


For further comment contact SAMWU’s General Secretary, Mthandeki Nhlapo on; 072 536 9756 or 021 697 1152.

Issued by;

Tahir Sema.
South African Municipal Workers' Union of COSATU.
National Media and Publicity Officer.

Written by Jorge Martin
Thursday, 19 August 2010

More than a million South African public sector workers started an all-out national strike for better wages and conditions on Wednesday, August 18. The present wave of strikes shows that the South African workers are not prepared to accept promises anymore and it's time for the Zuma government to deliver the change it was voted in for.

More than a million South African public sector workers started an all-out national strike for better wages and conditions on Wednesday, August 18. Hospitals and schools in particular were affected, with lively pickets closing down installations throughout the country. The unions (mainly COSATU-affiliates NEHAWU and SADTU, as well as some ILC affiliates) are demanding an above-inflation 8.6% wage rise, as well as a R1,000 housing allowance and other improvements in their conditions.

The all-out strike follows a successful one-day warning strike on August 10th, which saw 15,000 workers march in Cape Town and another 20,000 in Tshwane. The day of action led the government to revise its wage offer up to 7%, which the unions rejected as being insufficient.

At both these rallies there was a real sense of anger that the ANC government of Jacob Zuma is not delivering for the people who elected him. Zuma came to power after having won the Polokwane conference of the African National Congress in 2007. At that time, an alliance between the rank and file activists from ANC local branches, the trade unionists organised in COSATU, and the South African Communist Party, managed to defeat the right-wing clique around president Mbeki, which was widely despised as the symbol of the right-wing policies carried out by the ANC government.

The majority in the ANC and COSATU thought that the replacing Mbeki with Zuma would bring about a change in policies, but at the same time were not prepared just to wait and see. Immediately after the elections in 2009 there was a spate of strikes and protests in the poorest communities over the lack of delivery of services.

Fifteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is still an extremely unequal society with a massive gap between the rich and the poor (which has actually widened since the end of the old regime), and according to some studies, 70% of the population live under the poverty line. One million workers lost their jobs in 2009 when the economy contracted by 1.8%. Real unemployment stands at about 40% (the official rate is 25%).

Shortage of housing is still a chronic problem, with official government figures estimating that 2.1 million units are needed to house the 12 million people who have no decent housing and live in informal settlements. This is a big part of the current dispute of the public sector workers, many of whom do not earn enough to buy a house and do not qualify for RDP housing programmes.

There is a strong feeling amongst the workers, and particularly the trade union members, that this is their government, that they put Zuma in power and that therefore he should respond to their interests and their demands. The government, however, has launched a media offensive against public sector workers, alleging that their demands cannot be met because of lack of funds, attempting to portray the issue as one of the wages of already “privileged” workers versus services for the poor, etc.

One striking worker had this to say in response: “The president and the Ministers earn thousands, yet the person who keeps the country's wheels running, is earning peanuts. We are not able to apply for bonds, buy cars, and provide decent education for our kids due to our salary scale.”

As a matter of fact, ministers earn as much as R143,000 a month, while many public sector workers barely survive on 7,000. In an example quoted in the Times Live, Thabiso Mokoshane, 39 years of age and head of the languages department at Kensington Secondary in Devland, near Soweto, earns R13,000. But after tax deductions and making his bond repayment he only takes home about R4,000 for a family of three. These “privileged” conditions are the underlying reason for the strike.

On the first day of the strike, the government used the police against striking workers. In an incident outside a Soweto hospital, the police fired rubber bullets and used water cannons against strike pickets. The South African Democratic Teachers Union SADTU also denounced the use of rubber bullets against striking teachers in KwaZulu Natal. Trade unionists were also blocking major highways in Gauteng. Living up to the great revolutionary tradition of the South African workers, in the Greater Durban area, trade unionists organised flying pickets. Calling themselves “Bafana Bafana” (the nickname of the national football team during the recent World Cup), they moved from one place to another, shutting down government buildings and hospitals. “We have shut down St Aidan's, RK Khan, Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Addington and King Edward hospitals,” said Bafana Bafana spokesman Sivuyile Ntshoko, who is also the chairman of the King Edward branch of the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), as reported by Sapa news agency.

In a separate dispute, 31,000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in the car industry have been engaged in an all-out strike since August 11th, demanding a 15% wage increase. The union is also demanding the banning of the use of labour brokers in this highly unionised industry, as well as a fully paid 6-month maternity leave, and overtime pay rates for all work over the 8 hour working day from Monday to Friday. NUMSA has now threatened to spread strike action to parts manufacturers, retail sellers and garages.

It is not possible to say how these disputes will end. There is certainly a massive build up of anger on the part of the workers and the beginning of the strike has already shown their willingness to struggle. The Zuma government will be under pressure from big business to show it can withstand the pressure of organised labour. The leaders of COSATU will come under enormous pressure from bourgeois public opinion to make concessions. In 2007, a similar strike by public sector workers lasted for a month before an above-inflation deal was reached, which meant a partial victory for the workers.

Contradictions in the Alliance – socialist programme needed

The strike of public sector workers shows all the contradictions of the Tripartite Alliance between ANC, COSATU, and the Communist Party. While Zuma's ANC government has taken an intransigent position toward the demands of the workers, there are plenty of SACP and COSATU members sitting in parliament as ANC representatives, including some of them serving as ministers. SACP and COSATU leaders should pose the question bluntly: whose interests does this government serve? The interests of the workers or the interests of the capitalists?

If there is no money to pay decent wages to public sector workers (nurses, hospital workers, teachers, etc), to provide all with decent homes, a decent education and decent jobs, this is because even though apartheid was done away with, capitalism remains. A small minority of blacks have massively enriched themselves and joined the capitalist class, some of them through the so-called Black Economic Empowerment deals. For example, in one BEE deal recently announced, AcelorMittal will transfer 25% of its shares to black investors, including shares worth R900 million to Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma.

A handful of ANC leaders and nascent black capitalists have benefited from these deals (and some former COSATU leaders as well), while for the overwhelming majority of South African working people, living conditions have not substantially improved, if at all.

Industrial action should be combined with a serious and thorough campaign for socialist policies within the ANC. On the basis of a clear socialist programme, SACP and COSATU members should organise a left wing socialist caucus within the ANC, which would very quickly get the overwhelming support of the majority of the ANC activists and rank and file (as was proven at the Polokwane conference).

The ANC Youth League has already come out in favour of the nationalisation of the mines. Whatever criticisms one may have of the shortcomings of the proposal or even of YL leader Malema, this idea should surely be taken up by the SACP and COSATU leaders, who could put a motion to parliament to discuss the issue and accompany it with a campaign of mass mobilisations around this demand.

So far, COSATU and SACP leaders have backed the Alliance, mobilising the core working class and poor vote for the ANC, while the ANC leaders in power have pursued capitalist policies. It is time that the relationship is reversed, but that requires a change in the political orientation of the SACP. Instead of the old argument about the need for an abstract “national democratic revolution” before the question of socialism can be posed, there should be a clear recognition that within the limits of capitalism, neither national liberation, nor meaningful democracy is possible. The struggle for socialism should be put at the top of the agenda, that is, the nationalisation of the banks and insurance companies, the mines, and big monopolies that still control the South African economy, so that they can be put under democratic workers' control. This would allow the working out of a democratic plan of the economy to address the urgent problems of housing, jobs, education, health care and land redistribution which have been left largely unsolved in the last 16 years.

August 23, 2010 -- We condemn the ANC-SACP government for union bashing in the current public sector strike; Using the flimsy excuse of special courts and the so-called need for militarization of the police during the world cup, it is now clear that these courts and the militarised police are there for one purpose only: to smash the working class and keep us under control, as the imperialists have realized that they can no longer only depend on the ANC-SACP-Cosatu leaders to control the masses; the imperialists know that they cannot send the army into battles against the working class, as the army would side with the working class; the strengthening of the repressive apparatus of the state is to build a counter-revolutionary force to keep the masses in chains.

For years the state has resisted the finalization of a minimum service agreement in the public sector; they have always wanted to deny much of the public sector the right to strike and have over and over again used their vulnerable position to force not only low wage and salary increases, but the structural adjustment plans of the IMF/World Bank. The dubious loans from the world bank, the IMF and other imperialist agencies, always come with conditions, one of them being public sector cuts; the imperialists are behind the refusal of the government to grant a living increase to the public sector workers and staff.

For years the working class has suffered from the collapse of the public health sector; it is 'normal' for patients to die every day due to lack of equipment or privatized equipment, lack of medicine and poor nutrition and dying from the cold in shacks;every day patients die because there are too few doctors and nurses; the capitalist press remain quiet about this ongoing silent genocide against the working class; on the other hand, the government allows 70%+ of health expenditure to go to the private sector; the Netcare and Mediclinic parasites have many facilities which lie half-empty throughout the year;they turn away patients to die, every day, based on one criterion only, money; and true to form, never to lose an opportunity to profit, these bandits have stepped in to 'help', at a huge fee of course. It would be interesting to see which ANC leader has shares in the private health sector so that the paper trail could be fully exposed. Last year each of the private health groups raked in R11 bn in revenue, over the bones of the masses.

The ANC-SACP cabinet met last week; their response: interdicts, shooting and brutalising workers; their next step would be to attempt to mass dismiss workers; this is the alliance that the Cosatu leaders have told us, is defending workers democratic rights, advancing the 'democratic revolution'. The essence of the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance is an alliance of millionaires/billionaires getting rich quick while the working class remains enslaved to world imperialism-capitalism.

We equally condemn the Afriforum for interdicting the teacher unions; Afriforum is a front for the trade union, Solidarity. How ironic, the Solidarity union breaking the solidarity of strikers! The Afriforum tries to pretend that the interest of the Afrikaner worker is the same as the Afrikaner middle and upper class. This is a lie. The white worker is exploited and has common interest with the rest of the working class. The Afrikaner middle and upper class are the ones brutalizing our brothers and sisters on the farms, using child labour, using terrible conditions of virtual slavery so that the giant imperialist companies can continue to profit from massive profits in the food sector; a section of the white workers, on the other hand, are also being bashed in this strike; we call on all workers to break with the anti-solidarity Solidarity union.

We salute the example of the Samwu Gauteng to launch solidarity action by Friday, if the state refuses to mets the very reasonable demands of the strikers; We call on all industrial sectors and other sectors in the working class to follow suit.

we note with concern the call by the Independent Labour caucus for stayaways; this opens the door for the leaders to act without mandate; we call for daily mass meetings of strikers to control the direction of the strike; we call for joint parent teacher-student meetings to intensify the strike and to take over the schools and run programmes on imperialism, the strike and how the government is acting in the interests of the capitalists.

Forward to a general strike in defence of the public sector workers' demands!

Shaheed Mahomed
WorkersInternational Vanguard League
SA section of
International Leninist Trotskyist Fraction.
1st Floor, Community House
41 Salt River rd
Salt River
South Africa


SADTU Media Statement, 23 August 2010

As the strike by public service workers enters its second week, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) has noted the increased use of violence by the state machinery against our members.

We are also concerned about the intimidating war talk being used by the employer. We believe this may be due to the misinterpretation of the court interdict issued over the weekend regarding essential services. Instead of concentrating on peripheral issues and playing to the gallery by misinforming the public, we urge the Government to focus on the key issues and respond to the demands of the workers in order to bring the strike to an end.

Our lawyers are in the process of drafting papers to contest some aspects of the interdict including the costs and the essential services issue on its broadness and will be awaiting the transcripts made by the DPSA so that other areas can be considered.

Demonstrations and pickets taking place in strategic places across this country have been met by arrests and shooting of our members by the police.

Our Northern Cape Provincial Secretary, his deputy and fifty members were arrested in Kimberly this morning while leading a peaceful picket.

On Friday, three SADTU members were shot with rubber bullets while picketing in Potchefstroom in the North West Province.

As SADTU, we want to reiterate that we are not going to be intimidated by threats from the State. We have resolved that we are not going to retreat from continuing with our demonstrations until our demands are met. No level of intimidation and threats will steer us away from our just course. Our strike is legal and we will continue to intensify our actions.

We call upon the police to exercise their crowd management skills effectively, instead of resorting to pulling the trigger at a drop of a hat.

We are encouraged by the unity shown by all public service unions during this trying time.

Our struggle continues!

Issued by SADTU Secretariat

General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, 082 783 2968
Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi, 082 709 5651
Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi, 082 719 5157


Conference of the Democratic Left
Statement on the public sector strike - for immediate release

Defend the right to strike. Support striking Public Sector workers

An Injury to one is an injury to all!

In just a few days teachers, nurses and other public sector workers have mutated from the upholders of civilised values to a cruel mob intent on destroying our country. Government, Buthelezi and Zille stand united in condemning the public sector workers.

The Conference of the Democratic Left believes that not only have the public sector workers the right to strike against their miserable working conditions and wages but they have the duty to picket their work places against scabs, otherwise what is the point of withdrawing one’s labour? This is the only power workers have in fighting their unfair conditions of work. They do not have the power to set their wages, determine the conditions under which they work nor the socio-economic circumstances that impact on their workplace.

We know public sector workers are very angry and they have a right to be angry. The unions have been negotiating in good faith and with much patience. Government has stalled and negotiated in bad faith playing expensive public relations games. Their lies that their offer to workers is just 0.1% of what they are asking further fuels the anger of workers. Public sector unions have even moderated their very reasonable demands to a mere 8.6% wage increase and R1000 housing allowance. They are not asking for R9 bn. share of ArcelorMittal, they are not asking for R140 bn. (conservative costing of hosting the World Cup), nor even Mercs - unlike Richard Baloyi, minister of public service and administration, who says they are “tools of our trade”!

The public sector strike is demonstrating the skewed priorities of our government. We need to urgently fix our collapsing public education and health systems. This starts with those that work in them. We have to restore the dignity and morale of public sector workers by not only ensuring they receive a living wage but also change the terrible conditions under which they work.

Government is calling out people to come and volunteer to fill in for striking workers. Even Minister of health Motsoaledi was working in a hospital saying he did not want people to die. This is just a public relations exercise to try and win back public sympathy, which is largely with the strikers. If they really were concerned with the situation of patients in our public hospitals why have they allowed hundreds of babies to die? Take for example the death of six babies at Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in May this year. An investigation into the causes of their death found that “overcrowding, under-staffing and a lack of antiseptic sprays and paper towels” as major factors.

The way to ensure that patients get decent healthcare and students get effective teaching is for government to end the strike by ending intimidation of strikers, agree to their demands and to call a series of urgent summits to fix our schools and hospitals. This is urgent when we consider that:

· 42% of schools have virtually no access to water, 61% of schools have no proper sewage systems, 21% of schools have no toilets or have more than 50 learners per toilet, 16% have no electricity, only 8% of schools have libraries and 62% of schools have a learner educator ratio that exceeds 30.

The burden under which health workers, doctors and nurses have to carry out their work is unbearable. HIV/AIDS, TB and other infectious diseases are overwhelming our hospitals and clinics. Posts have been frozen for years leading to a shortage of personnel. It is estimated that there is a shortage of more than 80,000 health workers. Few doctors often result in doctors working a 36 hour shift and at current levels there is just 1 doctor for every 3,800 people that use public health system. Operating theatres and trauma units are often closed due to lack of supplies.

The Conference of the Democratic Left demands that the state settle the strike in favour of the demands of public workers immediately and that takes urgent steps together with the trade unions and other popular movements to address the conditions under which public sector workers have to work.

The Conference of the Democratic Left is a process where popular movements, organisations and activists are coming together to chart a new path for overcoming inequality and division in our country. A conference is planned for December 2 – 5 this year where a platform and strategy for uniting our struggles against neoliberal capitalism will be developed. For more information contact

Mazibuko Jara, 083 6510271

Martin Legassick,, 083 4176837