/ 16 July 2008

Thousands march in support of Cosatu protest

Thousands of workers took to the streets in the Free State, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga on Wednesday in support of a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) protest against rocketing food and electricity prices.

Marchers in Bloemfontein urged the government not to let ordinary people pay for its failure not to invest in power in the 1990s.

”We must not be the victims of this electricity crisis,” said Bheki Ntshalintshali, Cosatu deputy general secretary.

”We cannot afford the 27,5% increase in electricity,” he told protesters at the Lebohang building.

Further increases meant workers would suffer the most, especially if employers started retrenching people.

He implicated President Thabo Mbeki and Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka amongst those whose mistakes workers had to pay for.

”We are called to pay the cost for mistakes of others,” he said.

In a memorandum handed to Free State Premier Beatrice Marshoff, the trade union federation demanded that the electrification programme to poor households not be compromised.

Cosatu said the mining industry should also not be ”sacrificed” in an effort to manage the crisis.

Earlier on Wednesday, several hundred bus passengers were stranded at the Central Park bus terminal in Bloemfontein’s CBD due to drivers taking part in the one-day stayaway.

All operations at the Beatrix gold mine of Gold Fields were affected by the Cosatu action, while De Beers said there was no impact on three of the four operations in the Northern Cape and Free State.

The Free State health department said only about 200 workers, out of about 16 000, were absent from work.

Almost 80% of all clothing and textile workers in the Free State and Northern Cape took part in the protest action, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union said.

In Kimberley in the Northern Cape, about 2 000 workers marched through the streets.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi addressed the crowd at Eskom’s offices before the marchers moved to the buildings of the old Northern Cape Legislature in Kimberley.

And in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, more than 1 000 workers heeded the call to protest.

Mpumalanga Cosatu spokesperson Raymond Mnguni said more than 60% of businesses ground to a halt and many shops, factories and companies closed for the day.

”Many production industries operated on skeleton staff,” he said.

Memorandums were handed over to senior managers from Eskom and Sasol, who said they would take them to their bosses to find a way forward, said Mnguni.

The marches were considered by Cosatu to be a good build-up to a national strike on August 6.

Meanwhile, Cosatu in the Western Cape has distanced itself from an email going round suggesting that the province will be on strike on Wednesday July 23.

”This email goes as far as threatening violence against those who may defy this strike action,” the union said.

However, no protest action was scheduled for the province that day, and Cosatu did not condone violence or intimidatory tactics to coerce people to action.

”We believe in our cause and given our support, see no reason for such tactics in any case,” the federation said. — Sapa