Saftu threatens to make SA 'ungovernable'

Zwelinsima Vavi told the crowd: “We are saying to Cyril Ramaphosa, take that R20 … you can find a space behind the beds of your buffalos and you can put that R20 there.” (Gallo)

Zwelinsima Vavi told the crowd: “We are saying to Cyril Ramaphosa, take that R20 … you can find a space behind the beds of your buffalos and you can put that R20 there.” (Gallo)

The South African Federation of Trade Unions will celebrate its one-year anniversary by “making South African ungovernable” unless the state scraps the national minimum wage in its current format and introduces fair labour laws.

The federation, which represents 30 unions and around 800 000 workers, took aim at everyone from President Cyril Ramaphosa to its rival federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Saftu general secretary Zwelinsima Vavi mocked Ramaphosa as “the buffalo” who was once a hero to unionists but became “co-opted” by multinational corporations. The buffalo remark refers to Ramaphosa’s infamous auction bid to pay R18-million for a buffalo.

“Voetsek Cyril Ramaphosa voetsek,” was one of Vavi’s chants as he addressed hundreds of workers and concerned residents outside Parliament.

Saftu, along with local organisations concerned about the water crisis and the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa, marched on Parliament to declare that the state should implement a “living wage” instead of a R20 per hour rate for most workers in the country.

A breakdown of the proposed national minimum wage is as follows:

  • R20/hour for most workers
  • R18/hour for farmworkers
  • R15/hour for domestic workers
  • R11/hour for Expanded Public Works Programme workers

“We are saying to Cyril Ramaphosa, take that R20 … you can find a space behind the beds of your buffalos and you can put that R20 there,” Vavi said.

The federation is also challenging amendments to the Labour Relations Act, which will see employers having increased powers to stop a protected strike by being enabled to raise a complaint in the CCMA or the courts that a strike is running for too long or it is negatively impacting the company.

The new labour bill will also require unions to only declare a strike if there has been a secret ballot vote. The process could possibly be onerous, as it may require the entire union to vote. Employers will also be able to raise complaints if the secret ballot process is irregular, further impeding access to a protected strike.

Parliament received and signed Saftu’s memorandum of demands but the federation has threatened to take further action if it does not receive a “positive response” from the house.

“Should we not get a positive response by April 25, we will be back here to get that response,” Western Cape Saftu deputy chairperson Nyaniso Siyana told protesters.

“We will put the economy of this country down for them to listen. This economy is built on our own sweat and blood,” he said.

The federation also took aim at Cosatu, who picketed outside Parliament after Saftu left, calling them “sell-outs” and “corrupt”. But in one moment, when Cosatu regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich walked toward the march around an hour before the Cosatu picket was meant to begin in the same area, Vavi welcomed him on stage and hugged him tightly.

“This is our man,” Vavi said after warmly embracing Ehrenreich. “This is a Numsa man. He belongs here among the truth-tellers.”

Saftu’s planned national strike on April 25 coincides with the federation’s one-year anniversary. The union has earlier said it will have a day of action to oppose Ramaphosa’s administration and ensure the national “slave wage” becomes a “living wage”.

“Every township will come to standstill,” Vavi said on Thursday, describing the April 25 shutdown to protesters. “No bus will move unless the bus is taking us to the march.” 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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