Tens of thousands protest ANC policies in S.Africa
Tens of thousands of protesters marched through South African cities on Wednesday in a protest by the powerful Cosatu labour body, the latest sign of tensions within the ANC-led government.
The protest’s official rallying cry is to demand that government scrap plans for tolls on major roads around Johannesburg and rein in the practice of labour brokers who offer workers short-term contracts at lower pay.
But the marches were another show of discontent with the African National Congress-led government, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela became the first black president in 1994.
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 party of ignoring the poor in a country that has one of the world’s largest income gaps.
“When we look across our country today, what do we see? We see those who drove Mercedes under apartheid driving bigger Mercedes today,” Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s provincial leader in Cape Town, told the 8,000 protesters there.
“We see some of our government officials… driving as big Mercedes.
“The struggle of our people was not to give Mercedes to some. The struggle of our people was to make sure that all of the people in our country had opportunity and had prosperity and that’s what we are here to say today.”
The heart of the protests was downtown Johannesburg, where tens of thousands of people packed the streets in a march stretching for a kilometre.
The embattled leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, took part in the protest — just a week after the party moved to expel him for provoking divisions within its ranks.
Malema, who has vowed to appeal his expulsion, had become a leading voice opposing Zuma’s re-election as ANC chief at the party’s elective conference in December.
And while the protest avoided overtly political tones, Cosatu’s underlying message was clear: Zuma will still have to earn its support.
Cosatu organised marches in 32 towns and cities, with Johannesburg and Cape Town posting by far the biggest turnouts.
Plans for toll roads have provoked widespread anger across Gauteng, the tiny province that includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.
“We pay for petrol, we pay for our cars and maintenance, now this,” said Johannesburg marcher Fulelo Nokwe, who commutes across the length of the sprawling city every day.
“This is our land, why pay for it? We are already paying hefty taxes,” he added.
Many poor South Africans will not be affected, because mini-bus taxis used by most commuters are exempt from the tolls.
The government has already dropped the proposed toll rates by 40 percent, and agreed to a cap of 550 rands ($72) a month in toll payments for motorists.
On the streets, the issue of labour brokers was clearly a major concern.
Many businesses rely on labour brokers and a study last month found that 30 percent of the national workforce was employed on temporary contracts, a system that Cosatu says is open to abuse.
It wants temporary contracts limited to six months and paid at rates equivalent to full-time jobs.
One protester said he had worked for three years for a construction company on temporary contracts.
“They are parasites, they exploit people. How can I be a temp for such a long time?” he said, identifying himself only as Travis.
“These people are colluding with big firms to exploit us. We want full-time employment with security and benefits,” he said.