DURBAN - LABOUR experts have predicted more strikes, pickets and protests after President Cyril Ramaphosa was heckled by Sibanye-Stillwater miners at a May Day event.
Ramaphosa was booed by workers at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg and did not deliver his address on Sunday; instead, he was whisked away by police when people rushed to the stage.
Yesterday Ramaphosa, writing in his weekly newsletter titled “The workers have spoken and we must listen”, said: “These workers wanted to be heard. They wanted their union leaders and the government to appreciate their concerns and understand the challenges they face. In raising their voices, these workers were upholding a tradition of militance that has been part of the labour movement in this country for decades. As political and union leaders, we have all heard the workers and understand their frustration.”
He said the workers on Sunday emphasised that the working class and the poor of our country were suffering.
“They made the firm point that we must do more, and act with greater urgency, to address issues of unemployment, poverty, deprivation and hunger,” Ramaphosa said.
Cosatu said while they did not condone the disruption of the May Day event, workers had legitimate grievances over the government’s failure to implement the public servants’ wage agreement and other promises.
The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), an affiliate of Cosatu, condemned and distanced itself from “the anarchy that ensued at the rally to mark International Workers’ Day – May Day”.
The union said while it condemned the booing of Ramaphosa, they were not oblivious to the challenges facing workers.
South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said workers were justified in heckling Ramaphosa. Vavi said the ANC government had presided over the high unemployment rate, retrenchments and weakening workers’ rights. He described it as a justifiable act of anger and a statement that needed to be made against the leader of the government.
Mamokgethi Molopyane, a mining and labour analyst, said there would be more labour-related protests this year, and workers were acting on their own, as opposed to getting permission from the structures of their respective unions. “Workers are unhappy about how their unions have gone about trying to better wages and living conditions, but also representing them on key issues. The unhappiness we are seeing is symptomatic of the fragmentation happening within unions themselves, and the fact that workers are beginning to see that their leaders are not representing them.”
Molopyane said this was a form of active citizenship, as workers were no longer waiting for issues to drag on for years. Labour economist Andrew Levy said with the easing of Covid-19, there would be more strikes and the duration of the strikes would be longer.
“Ours is a system based on free collective bargaining; parties must sort it out for themselves. The president is an obvious target because of the publicity,” Levy said.
He forecast that the major strikes this year would come from the motor industries and the public service.