Thousands take to the streets to protest R20 minimum wage

Around 6000 workers and community organisers from Johannesburg and surrounding areas participated in Wednesday's general strike. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Around 6000 workers and community organisers from Johannesburg and surrounding areas participated in Wednesday's general strike. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Around 6 000 workers and community organisers from Johannesburg and the surrounding areas marched against the new amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the national minimum wage on Wednesday.

The march, which was championed by Zwelinzima Vavi’s South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), was attended mostly by cadres from the National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa) — by far the largest union in the federation — and other smaller Saftu affiliates.

Members from Food and allied Workers Union, General Industries Workers Union of South Africa, National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers, Apsa, Detawu (Democratised Transport, Logistics and Allied Workers Union), the Azanian People’s Organisation, Salipsu and the Young Nurses Indaba were well represented, though the sale of Numsa regalia on the outskirts of Mary Fitzgerald Square made it difficult to tell them apart from the bigger union.

A number of community organisations also made their way to Newtown to join the march, which has been labelled in the media as a Saftu strike.

Shaun Arendse, from the Workers’ and Socialist Party told the Mail & Guardian that WASP considers Saftu the only progressive workers federation in South Africa now.

“I’ll put it this way, we wouldn’t have a set-up like this at a Cosatu rally,” he said.

The attendance of members of the Simunye Workers’ Forum, the Casual Workers’ Advice Office, Right to Know, Outsourcing Must Fall and representatives from the Informal Sector Association meant that the strike’s numbers were bolstered by smaller community organisations.

Innocent Shongwe was one of the few marchers wearing EFF regalia. He said that he was there to fight for a living wage of R12 500 and permanent work.

He said that even if EFF leader Julius Malema didn’t throw his weight behind the strike, he would still attend the march.

Shongwe added that he didn’t like Cosatu because he thinks that the competing federation is selling out unions and workers by signing off on the national minimum wage.

As the march geared up and representatives from different organisations addressed the crowd, a Numsa cohort walked through Mary Fitzgerald Square singing “Wanya Ramaphosa,” while nurses from the Young Nurses Indaba chanted “Wanya Motsoaledi” in response.

The crowd cheered when Vavi took the podium, a giant buffalo head made out of wire bobbing in the throng.

“We are teaching those sellouts the lesson of their lives,” he declared. “Today we are too big to march, so instead we’ll occupy Johannesburg.”

The march proceeded to the offices of Gauteng Premier, David Makhura,  to hand over a memorandum.
It would then make its way to the Department of Health until finally making its way to the labour ministry in Braamfontein.

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit both subs and writes for the Mail & Guardian. She joined the M&G after completing her master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cape Town. She is interested in the literature of the contemporary black diaspora and its intersection with queer aesthetics of solidarity. Her recent work considers the connections between South African literary history and literature from the rest of the Continent. Read more from Sarah Smit

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