South Africa’s 1st post apartheid recession, a new President and an angry population

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Strikes and demonstrations are on the increase in South Africa. After violent demonstrations from township populations, civil servants Tuesday continued demonstrations for a second consecutive day, to express their discontent. Several incident were recorded Mondau, during demonstrations in some of the main South African cities.

South African municipal employees will not calm down. Since Monday, thousands have demonstrated in major cities around the country. They plan to continue their strike until at least Wednesday. Their demands include a 15% wage increase, an increase in their basic 5,000 rand income (i.e. 497 euros) and a 70% increase in housing allowances. “Tomorrow (Wednesday), we will organize a meeting to decide whether we accept or reject” our employer’s offer of a 13% increment in wages, the secretary of Samwu (South African Union of Municipal Employees) told said AFP Tuesday. The strike was launched by unions representing about 150 000 municipal employees from the various services including, health, water, electricity, public works, police and public transport. Strikes to negotiate incomes in South Africa usually take place during the winter season.

Strong protests

But due to the effect of the global downturn, compounded with the fact that this happens to be the South African government’s very first post apartheid recession, this particular strike season has been punctuated by more turbulent incidents than other years. Police, intent on dispersing protestors demanding efficient public services, Tuesday, fired rubber bullets into groups of demonstrators in a Johannesburg district, wounding some. The day before, according to the South African agency Sapa, twelve people were slightly injured while two others were arrested for violence in Plettenberg Bay (south-west). At Polokwane (northeast), the local police arrested 25 persons for degrading buildings and also for violence.

The spate of violence has been denounced by the ruling party (African National Congress — ANC), who have warned that no form of disorder can resolve wage disputes. Following violent demonstrations in townships last week, the South African government dispatched envoys to some of the largest municipalities in the country to study their claims, namely improved access to basic necessities.

Jacob Zuma in the dock

In recent months, the population has expressed dissatisfaction with policies from President Jacob Zuma’s government, which has only been functional for the past two months after his election three months ago. His anti-poverty programme has been criticised. Among the main criticisms from South Africans are the slow materialisation of the 500 000 jobs Jacob Zuma promised during his campaign. Unemployment stands at 23, 5%. Electricity charges were increased by approximately 30% in July.

For the time being, Jacob Zuma has called for dialogue and the end to the general disorder. The President hopes to calm tensions before the start of the World Cup scheduled to take place in South Africa in 2010. But in a country where over 40% of the population lives on less than dollar a day, the new President has a tough task ahead of him to deliver on his campaign promises.

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