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S.African unions boss threatens new protests

The head of South Africa’s powerful Cosatu labour federation on Wednesday threatened new street protests, as he rallied tens of thousands of people in Johannesburg against plans for toll roads.

“We have come to here to fire the first warning shot. And in our chamber, there is still a lot of bullets,” Zwelinzima Vavi told a cheering crowd that police estimated at 45,000.

Cosatu held protests in 32 towns and cities to demand that government scrap plans for tolls on major roads around Johannesburg and rein in labour brokers who hire millions of workers on short-term contracts at lower pay.

Vavi drew a line in the sand on tolling set to start at the end of next month, threatening to shut down the highways of South Africa’s economic heartland.

“On the 28th, if they say they will introduce this, we will take everybody we see here and even more and put them in the highways of Johannesburg,” he said. “We will make this system unworkable.”

“That is a form of privatisation of the roads. Instead of the (city) council providing us with the services, the basic services, such as roads and public health assistance, we must now pay for everything,” he said.

“The government loses 30 billion rand ($3.9 billion), that is a financial year, to graft or fraud,” he said, citing a report last year by official investigators.

“Our taxes are already paid to fix the roads,” he said. “Use that money.”

Cosatu backed President Jacob Zuma’s rise to power, and along with the Communist Party is a partner in the ANC government.

But it has increasingly accused the ANC of ignoring the poor in a country that has one of the world’s largest income gaps.

The protest threat poses a new challenge to Zuma as he seeks to shore up his support ahead of the ANC’s leadership conference in December, where he will seek a second term at the helm of the party once headed by Nelson Mandela.

Given ANC’s broad public support, remaining party leader would make him a shoo-in for a second term as president.