South African Labor Unions Target Zuma in Anti-Graft Strike

  • Workers stage protests in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban
  • Protest action wins backing from South African Communist Party

Workers from South Africa’s biggest labor group joined a one-day strike in cities across the nation’s nine provinces to protest against corruption that it says is thriving under President Jacob Zuma’s administration.

The Wednesday shutdown marks a new low in relations between Zuma and the 1.7-million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions, which helped him win control of the ruling African National Congress in 2007 and then turned against him after he fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister in March. That move prompted S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. to downgrade the nation’s credit assessment to junk.

About 1,500 people gathered in Cape Town, while several thousand more joined marches in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other cities, many of them carrying posters calling for Zuma to resign or be fired.

“We will have mobilized 100,000 workers to march against corruption today,” Andre Kriel, the secretary-general of the Cosatu-affiliated South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, told protesters outside the gates of parliament in Cape Town. “We are tired of corruption.”

The president has been implicated in a succession of scandals, including allegations that he allowed wealthy businessmen to influence government appointments and the issuing of state contracts -- a practice known locally as “state capture.” The scandal has affected global companies such as accountants KPMG LLP and consultancy McKinsey & Co., which have been implicated in facilitating, being party to or turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.

Economic Pressure

The labor action will place increased pressure on Africa’s most industrialized economy, which the central bank expects to expand 0.6 percent this year. It may also further dent business confidence, which fell to its lowest level in more than three decades last month.

Cosatu is taking to the streets just three months before the ANC is scheduled to elect a new leader to replace Zuma, 75. It’s backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to take over when Zuma steps down as ANC leader in December. The president’s favored successor is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife and former chairwoman of the African Union Commission.

“We say: Zuma, enough is enough, step down,” Freda Oosthuizen, Cosatu’s national treasurer, told the crowd in Cape Town. “We are supporting Comrade Ramaphosa. We will have to push Zuma out.”

The strike has the support of the South African Communist Party, which like Cosatu is a member of the country’s ANC-led ruling coalition.

“It is important that Cosatu and the South African Communist Party join forces to highlight the dire effects of corruption,” Jeremy Cronin, a former deputy secretary general of the communist party and the country’s deputy public works minister, said in an interview in Cape Town. “Zuma must definitely be replaced, but unfortunately there are no messiahs at the moment."

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