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South Africans strike amid fear of violent protests

By John Chiahemen

JOHANNESBURG – A general strike over jobs in South Africa on Thursday caused little economic damage, but heightened concern over a wave of violent protests and criticism of President Thabo Mbeki’s centrist government.

Authorities in Ca

pe Town banned a march planned as part of the stoppage called by the powerful COSATU labour federation after striking security workers rampaged through the tourist city, smashing shops and cars two days earlier.

Mbeki roundly condemned the Cape Town violence and other protest unrest in which commuter trains were set ablaze or people thrown off moving trains to their death. He compared such acts to the mayhem of the anti-apartheid struggle years.

“There isn’t a single person in this country, nobody, whose cause is so just that they are allowed to kill other people,” Mbeki told parliament in Cape Town.

“You can’t go around breaking windows, cars, looting. … It takes us back to the things that happened in the late ’80s and the beginning of the ’90s. It can’t be right,” Mbeki said, asking police to act with greater vigour.

Thursday’s strike crippled some gold mines and shut schools but other sectors of the economy were largely unaffected.

COSATU marches brought the central business districts of Johannesburg and the port city of Durban to a standstill as police sealed several roads.

There were no reports of the type of violence that has dogged the month-long security workers’ strike during which at least 12 non-striking union members have been killed.

But political analysts said the strike underlined growing frustration with Mbeki’s policies — a source of a power struggle in the ruling alliance of his African National Congress that includes COSATU and the South African Communist Party.


In Thursday Johannesburg’s Star published what it said was a leak of a discussion paper prepared by the Communist Party and highly critical of Mbeki’s policies. It said his presidency was alienating the ANC leadership from its grassroots members and making it difficult to eradicate unemployment and poverty.

There was no comment from the presidency or communists.

Both COSATU and the communists have openly challenged Mbeki’s macroeconomic policies, which have spurred economic growth to a 23-year peak, held inflation in a target range of 3 percent to 6 percent for more than two years and kept the business sector buoyant — but done little to boost jobs.

South Africa’s official jobless rate remains above 26 percent, but is well over 30 percent based on a broader definition of unemployment.

“Twelve years after the transition from apartheid, nothing has changed for many people,” said Fakir of Johannesburg’s Centre for Policy Studies.

“In many countries if you had such a jobless rate you would have a revolution,” said a Western business executive who asked not to be named.

Political analyst Ebrahim Fakir said violence associated with protests against municipal authorities and with recent strikes showed the level of frustration, but was still an exception rather than the norm.

“It must be remembered that South Africa has been a violent society,” Fakir told Reuters. “Apartheid was brutal and sometimes resistance to apartheid equally brutal. This created a culture, and many people think you can only articulate yourself in this way.” — Reuter

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