South Africa: Zuma warned of doom as strike continues

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Thousands of striking civil servants in South Africa have issued their strongest warning to President Jacob Zuma over the strike saying they would not hesitate to push him out of office anytime – a fate suffered by his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, reports say.

Zuma is currently in China as the strike intensifies, crippling service delivery including hospitals and school. Unions, according to reports say Zuma should have postponed his trip to China and directly intervened in the strike.

One of the strike organizers, National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) James Kruger is on Wednesday quoted as saying, “Some people say away with the ANC, but the problem is not the ANC. The problem is leaders we elect. We had Thabo Mbeki. Now President Zuma is in China when he should be here.

“We’re telling him he must beware, like former president Thabo Mbeki, not complete his term as president if he refused to change his attitude to the strike” he added.

“You can’t leave a country when it is in turmoil. Thabo Mbeki did the same thing in 2007 and he did not complete his term in 2009. He was arrogant and used quiet diplomacy. This one (Zuma) is our own and he says a lot of things that are not correct,” he said.

Some 1.3 million civil servants embarked on a nationwide strike two weeks ago demanding 8.6 percent pay rise and a monthly housing allowance of 1,000 rand ( about $137, or 107 euros).

Before leaving for China, Zuma slammed strikers, saying they tarnish the country’s image saying “Even during the campaigns against the apartheid government we did not prevent nurses from going to work,”

A Durban woman gave birth in the car park last Friday after she was prevented from entering three public health institution. And Zuma said the scene of a woman giving birth on the “streets” was not a good image for the country.

According to various media reports, the strike has halted learning, and left some patients unattended at hospital. And although health workers are considered essential employees and not allowed to strike, some nurses have joined the wildcat strike, some intimidating volunteers who have stepped in to help patients.

So intense is the strike that some premature babies are being left unattended at hospitals.

Addressing parliament on Tuesday, Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane said that at least 53 premature babies were left unattended in some Gauteng hospitals. Those hospitals cover the greater Johannesburg area.

She said “Yesterday (Monday) when I visited some of the hospitals that were severely affected by the strike I was told shocking stories of 53 premature babies who were left unattended when striking workers forced nursing staff to leave their posts”.

“Some of the babies were literally locked in the wards with no one bothering to make alternative arrangements for their care.” she added.

Government is today [Wednesday] expected to respond to an ultimatum set by the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) which has threatened to intensify the strike.

General secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Tuesday “All Cosatu unions, in both the public and private sectors, will embark on a sympathy strike. No member of Cosatu will be at work next week.”

“We do need a total shutdown until government comes to its senses and accede to the legitimate demands of the working class.” warned Vavi.

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