South African Police, State Workers Clash as Strike Enters Its Third Day
South African police clashed with state workers who protested outside government buildings on the third day of a wage strike that has shut schools and clinics.
Police used water cannons to disperse protesters at Johannesburg’s Helen Joseph Hospital today, video shown by Cape Town-based e News Channel showed. Officers broke up a group of strikers who blocked roads to a hospital and a courthouse in the town of Chatsworth in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, police said.
The government “has noted with concern the violent acts of intimidation and public violence” associated with the strike,’’ it said in an e-mailed statement today. “Steps will be taken against strikers or sympathizers who intimidate staff or members of the public, or commit acts of hooliganism, destruction of property or violence.”
While state employees are demanding an 8.6 percent pay increase and a housing allowance of 1,000 rand ($136) a month, the government says it can’t afford to raise its offer of a 7 percent increase and a 700 rand allowance. South Africa’s annual inflation rate is currently 4.2 percent.
Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi met with union officials today “to try and persuade them to understand the government offer,” Dumisani Nkwamba, Baloyi’s spokesman, said by telephone from Pretoria. Asked if the wage offer may be increased, he replied, “absolutely not.”
Unions representing about 1.3 million state workers say their members struggle to get by on their current salaries and that the strike will continue until their demands are met.
“The strike will be intensifying all around the country,” Sizwe Pamla, a spokesman for the 250,000-member National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, said today in an interview.
The rand fell for a second day against the dollar, declining as much as 1.1 percent, to 7,3731. The FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index shed 0.6 percent to 26,989.63 for a third consecutive decline.
Government employees last struck in 2007, when schools, hospitals and immigration offices were disrupted for 29 days, the longest-ever walkout by state workers.
South African laws prevent strikes by certain categories of workers who provide essential services, accounting for about a third of state employees. Even so, many nurses have joined the labor action, said Fidel Hadebe, a Health Ministry spokesman.
“The impact of the strike has been quite severe in a number of facilities,” he said today by telephone from Pretoria. The provinces of “Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu- Natal have been worst-affected.”
Police fired rubber bullets yesterday to disperse workers who entered the grounds of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto township, south of Johannesburg, and tried to prevent patients and doctors from entering.
“We abhor the inhuman conduct of denying doctors and patients access to hospitals and teachers and pupils access to their schools,” the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference group said today in a statement issued to the South African Press Association. “Care is being denied to the weakest and most vulnerable.”
Members of the South African Defense Force were deployed to several hospitals to fill in for striking workers, while critically ill patients who were unable to access treatment at state facilities were transferred to private hospitals.
Reports of Deaths
A pregnant woman who was denied access to a state hospital in the eastern city of Durban gave birth in the parking lot of Netcare Ltd.’s St. Augustine hospital in the city, the company said in an e-mailed statement today.
Several newspapers said patients had died because they had not been treated or received medication. The health department was still investigating the reports, Hadebe said.
“As much as we offer our condolences to those families, we don’t want our members to be blackmailed when they have a legitimate right to strike,” Pamla said. “Hospitals by their nature are places that people go to get saved, but it doesn’t always happen that way” and it can’t be proven that strikers caused the deaths, he said.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, representing 70,000 workers, said today that car and fuel retail-industry workers plan to strike from Sept. 1 after employers failed to meet their demands for a pay increase. Numsa members in the tire and rubber industries will begin a walkout on Aug. 30, the union said.