/ 20 February 2024

Angola ‘slavery’ fuels first-ever general strike

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Supporters of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) march in Luanda on June 3, 2023 during a demonstration against the increase of the fuel price in Angola. (Photo by Julio Pacheco Ntela / AFP)

Angolans will in March embark on the country’s first general strike since independence in 1975.

The strike is focused on a dispute over the country’s minimum wage: $38 a month — “slave wages”, according to labour unions.

“Anyone who receives $38 [R722 at the current exchange rate] is nothing more than a real slave,” said Francisco Jacinto, secretary general of the General Centre of Independent and Free Unions of Angola.

Trade unions have demanded that it be raised to $288, given government statistics show that a basket of basic food items now costs more than $100. Angolan authorities have proposed increasing it to $45.

The main opposition party, Unita, said it stood with the workers on the issue.

“If the salary is no longer enough to pay for quality education for the children or build a decent house or buy a means of transport or save money, let it at least be enough to put food on the table,” said Unita MP Domingos Palanga.

In the past five years, Angola has seen more than a dozen strikes in different sectors of the civil service, including education, health and justice. This time, employees across all sectors are being mobilised to take part in the strike en masse and they appear ready to.

President João Lourenço’s government said union demands were unreasonable. 

“A national minimum wage of $288 … seems to me to be a figure outside of any common sense,” said Labour Minister Teresa Dias. “We have to make the union centres realise that none of us, and even themselves, would be in a position to pay wages at this level.”

Last month, the government increased its workers’ pay by 5%. Ademar Jinguma, a teacher in Bengo province, said his salary increment was “not enough to buy a 25kg bag of rice for a household of five people”.

He added: “A sack of rice costs $31, and that money is not enough to buy a box of cooking oil, which costs $26.”

Last year, the oil-rich nation experienced a wave of protests after the government cut subsidies for petrol in June. The move was aimed at curbing government spending, as the economy suffered from a slide in oil prices that weakened the local currency, the kwanza. 

This article first appeared in The Continent , the pan-African weekly  newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and  shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy at thecontinent.org