Al Jazeera Blogs


Africa

Will South Africa's strike season ever end?

With unrest on the rise, many citizens are worried about the longer-term implications of the crisis.
Last modified: 16 Oct 2012 20:00

Mining officials say seven of the main mines in South Africa are not operating and an estimated 100,000 miners are on strike nationwide.

I have arrived at Goldfields' KDC mine in Westonaria, just outside Johannesburg. About 3,000 miners are gathered in a car park on the company premises.

They want to march to the magistrates court in the town where miners who were arrested for public violence, assault, attempted murder and intimidation are meant to make their first court appearance.

But police won't let them leave the mine; they are afraid this group will distrupt the court's proceedings.

The men and women wait patiently, as their leaders try to negotiate access with the police.

Then I hear there has been trouble elsewhere. Police have just dispersed a group of striking miners at Kumba Iron Ore mine in the Northern Cape province.

The miners were fired by mine managers for taking part in an illegal strike – one of many across the country.

Then a policeman is said to have been hacked by a machete trying to break up a protest at Samancor Chrome Western Mine near Rustenburg.

Police officials say he fell while chasing striking miners. One of the miners allegedly tried to strike the police officer on the head with a machete – but missed when the policeman put his hands up in self defence.

It doesn't end there. In Polokwane workers burnt down mine property during a protest.

'Strike season' 

It is still traditionally 'strike season' in South Africa, that time of the year when workers bargain for wage increases.

But this year seems different for me.

I have never known the strike season to be this violent. For example, 34 striking miner workers were gunned down by police on August 16, at Lonmin Platinum mine in Marikana.

And the violence and continued unrest is beginning to take its toll on the average South African.

It is no longer: "When will this end" ...it is rather: "Why won't this end?!"

But it seems the nationwide strikes are growing and spreading. Some government-paid bus drivers have gone on strike, demanding a wage increase.

This could potentially inconvenience about 42,000 passengers.

As if things couldn't get any worse, municipal workers are threatening to go on strike soon.

You always know when they are on strike because they tend to tip over rubbish bins during their protests. But in the long term it means services like rubbish collection will be affected and other essential municipal services. An estimated 180,000 municipal workers could join this particular strike.

Feeling the pinch

The average South African seems fed up with the ongoing labour unrest. The mood is tense and some are worried what all this might mean in the long term for Africa’s biggest economy.

The price of basic commodities are going up and most families are feeling the pinch.

They are especially worried because it's an election year for the ruling African National Congress. They know the unions will try and push as hard as they can - because President Zuma needs the support of the unions to win a second term as party leader.

Ordinary people are bracing themselves for more strikes and possibly more disruption to their lives.

I overheard two well-off women complaining in Sandton, an upmarket area of Johannesburg, a few days back. They were saying that with some private security companies striking, there could be an increase in crime in the country.

It may sound trivial, compared to a mother worried about the price of food going up and consequences for her family, but it shows how the strikes are affecting everyone.

By the way, the miners from Goldfields' KDC mine where I was earlier decided to abandon their strike for the day. The police warned they would get tear gased if they moved.

But they still say they will try again and again; until they get their pay increase.