Friday, June 15, 2007

South African Labour News: Mbeki Didn't Reject Proposals

Presidency: Mbeki didn't reject salary proposals

Cape Town, South Africa
14 June 2007 06:01

President Thabo Mbeki on Thursday dismissed reports he has "rejected" the recommendations of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers chaired by Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

"For the record, the Presidency wishes to state that the president has, rather than reject the commission's recommendations, requested the commission to consider concerns raised by various institutions subsequent to the publication of its report," his office said in a statement.

The Presidency appealed to all South Africans to familiarise themselves with the commission's processes as laid down in legislation.

This legislation placed the responsibility of determining the president's remuneration in the hands of the commission and Parliament, while the president determined the salaries of MPs, the Presidency said.

On Wednesday, Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said Mbeki had not accepted the commission's recommendations that government leaders' salaries be increased by huge percentages.

Briefing the media after Cabinet's fortnightly meeting, Fraser-Moleketi said the new salaries, as recommended by the commission, would not be implemented.

"The president has considered the recommendations but did not accept them," she said.

She said Mbeki would first have to officially write back to the commission, informing it of his decision before making an official statement to the effect that he has rejected them.

The commission had recommended that Mbeki, his Cabinet and other public office bearers receive salary increases of up to 57%.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has used the recommendations as a rallying point in its current public-service strike, saying its 12% salary increase demand was nothing compared to what Cabinet ministers would soon receive.


SOUTH AFRICA: Strike action affects health services

Government has sought the help of the army to ensure people had access to health services

JOHANNESBURG, 13 June 2007 (IRIN) - Industrial action since 1 June by the South African public sector workforce, who are demanding a pay hike, is taking its toll on the country's health services.

The strike, termed as the biggest since the demise of apartheid by its organisers the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a labour federation, has crippled schools, hospitals and public transport.

Workers providing essential services are barred from protesting but few nurses have turned up for work at public hospitals and clinics since the beginning of the strike.

Doctors, who are not participating in the action in many cities, have been forced to stay at home for fear of intimidation and the possibility of violence. President Thabo Mbeki has condemned the intimidation.

Several hundred health personnel have been dismissed for participating in the strike, some of them reportedly for intimidating their colleagues. There have been some casualties: this week a pregnant woman lost her child when no one was available to operate on her at a public hospital in the east coast city of Durban.

The government deployed military personnel to ensure patients had access to care on 13 June, when the country's entire workforce joined the public-sector workers, but patients fearing intimidation chose to stay away.

"How can they say that they will deploy military and volunteers to handle medical care? Do those people even know where we store Panado [popular brand of paracetamol] or the syringes?" asked a health worker who did not want to be named.

She pointed out that members of parliament had received a 50 percent salary increase, so why could workers not get a 12 percent pay hike? The government has offered a 7.25 percent raise, which has been rejected by the labour federation.

Low salaries

A senior nurse, who chose to remain anonymous, said it was impossible to make ends meet. "How do they expect me to take home R8,000 (about US$1,100) and I have bills to pay, and yet they will still tax the money?" She confirmed that only five nurses were on duty in their hospital's 33 operating theatres.

Jack Bloom, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Alliance party in Gauteng Province, the country's industrial hub, noted that the casualty department of Baragwanath Hospital, one of the biggest referral facilities in the region, usually admitted up to 500 emergencies every day but only 100 were admitted on 13 June.

"It is worrying as to where else they are going to get necessary treatment," he commented. Only about a 1,000 patients visited the hospital compared to an average of 2,500 on a normal day.

COSATU is an ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), but has often locked horns with government, accusing it of not advocating pro-poor policies.

Many analysts, including ANC members, fear that the strike action is a show of strength ahead of the party's internal elections to be held later this year, when the ANC is expected to choose Mbeki's successor.

Jacob Zuma, the country's former deputy president, who was fired in 2005 after being implicated in a high-profile fraud trial related to South Africa's arms procurement programme but has the support of some COSATU leaders, is one of the candidates.

Local government minister dismisses claims of failed service delivery

The challenges of service delivery

JOHANNESBURG, 14 June 2007 (IRIN) - South Africa's Minister of Provincial and Local Government, Sydney Mufamadi, told IRIN in an interview that the rash of service delivery protests throughout the country since 2004 was a consequence of the ruling ANC government's successes, not its failures.

"As we make progress in some municipalities, the residents in other municipalities become impatient: they expect their public representatives to deliver in the same way as progress is made in other municipalities," Mufamadi said.

The interview with the minister was granted in response to a recent report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a South African think-tank focusing on development issues in relation to economic growth and democracy, which blamed an allegedly insensitive, and unresponsive political elite for the often violent protests over service delivery.

The report, 'Voices of Anger', recognises the huge socioeconomic challenges faced by the incoming ANC government when apartheid ended in 1994, but said that when these "daunting conditions are met with weak management, hesitant or absent leadership, poor communications, political favouritism and ineptitude ... citizens lose patience and resort to violent protest."

In 2004/05 alone, the CDE said, there were 881 illegal demonstrations and 5,085 legal protests across 90 percent of municipalities, a trend that has not lost its impetus: many service delivery protests across the country have already been recorded in 2007.

Mufamadi dismissed the report as "an ideologically based characterisation of the situation", a reference to the CDE's executive director, Ann Bernstein, an executive director during apartheid of the Urban Foundation, a non-governmental organisation dealing with black urbanisation issues, funded by white corporations and chaired by a retired white judge, Justice Steyn.

The present board of the CDE has among its members Judge Fikile Bam, judge-president of the Land Claims Court since 1995; Cas Coovadia, managing director of the Banking Association South Africa; Soto Ndukwana, a businessman and former political prisoner on Robben Island; Wiseman Nkuhlu, a businessman and former economic advisor to President Thabo Mbeki; and Michael Spicer, executive director of Business Leadership South Africa, whose members are committed to high growth, employment, and the reduction of poverty.

Impatience with delivery

The report said impatience with the ruling ANC government reached a tipping point on the anniversary of its first decade in power in 2004, when residents of the Free State Province's Phumelela Municipality resorted to violence over "the poor delivery of the most basic services, notably water and sanitation", and this has "been a feature of our political scene ever since".

South Africa is divided into 248 municipalities, of which 136 are denoted as "failing municipalities" and receive direct assistance from the national government, the report said.

Mufamadi said central government assistance to these muncipalities was a direct consequence of the apartheid government's policy of the underdevelopment of black communities, but the deployment of skilled personnel, such as water and electricty engineers, as well as qualified accountants, had seen "appreciable progress being made" in these formerly disadvantaged communities.

In 2004, the minister said, 65 percent of households had access to electricity; in the following two years this rose to 75 percent, with 85 percent access to potable water. "To suggest that public representatives are unresponsive to the concerns of the people has no basis in fact," he maintained.

"At no point did we say to our people that within five years all of you will have access to all the services you need access to; we never said that," Mufamadi insisted.

He believed the upswing in service delivery protests ahead of the 2006 local elections had been politically motivated by people who had failed to be nominated by their parties, including some seeking election on the ANC ticket, who had "then decided to make it difficult if not impossible for some ... candidates to deliver".

The CDE report focused on two municipalities: Phumelela, the first to experience such service delivery "revolts"; and the ongoing protest in Khutsong, a township situated on a provincial border, which was sparked by central government's decision to relocate the municipality from the country's richest province, Gauteng, to one of the poorest, North West, and "emphasises 'service delivery' as the principal axis of discontent".


The violent protests afflicting Khutsong, a township outside the mining town of Carletonville, in the Merafong Local Municipality, were precipitated by "the same pattern of failure to understand and respond appropriately to expressions of popular choice or discontent [which] led to the anger and escalating protest," the report said.

Merafong straddles the provincial border between southwest Gauteng and eastern North West provinces, and was incorporated into North West against the wishes of Khutsong's residents. Up until April 2006 the protests had caused R70 million (US$10 million) worth of damage to public and private property.

Residents also boycotted the March 2006 municipal elections, when just 232 of the registered 29,540 voters cast their ballots, of which 12 were spoilt, compared to a 57.2 percent turnout in the previous municipal election. Since 12 April this year, pupils have boycotted classes to protest the township's redesignation.

National government's intervention in the process served only to fuel the unrest in Khutsong. A religious leader quoted in the report said the government's envoy, defence minister Mosiou Lekota, "was too harsh, and never wanted to listen to our side. The message about Lekota's attitude spread fast, and people started asking whether this is really the kind of government that they have fought for ... He [Lekota] told us that when they [the government] formed provinces, they never consulted people; why should they now consult?"


Mufamadi said he took "extraordinary" measures of consultation with representatives of the Khutsong community, beyond what was required by the Municipal Demarcation Act, as he had done with other communities affected by the redrawing of provincial borders.

"I am telling you they [Khutsong resdients] have been consulted. If you want to make a determination between me and them [as to] who is not telling the truth, you can go to the legislature and ask them to produce documentary evidence of the process," he said.

"I think that too many people have been pretending that it is correct for the organisers of this [Khutsong] protest to disrespect the law ... This has got profoundly ominous consequences for democracy - we can't have a situation where everything and anything has to be subjected to veto by local communities.

"In Limpopo [Province], we faced a situation where people were saying, 'You know, we are Tsonga - Shangaan speaking - you can't put us in the same municipality where people are Venda speaking'.

"Khutsong will get its share. It does not matter if Khutsong is in the North West or Gauteng, what we need to to do is to build North West's capacity to deliver on its responsibilities," he said.

Steven Friedman, visiting professor of politics at Rhodes University and a research associate at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, a local think-tank, pointed out that "[non-violent] protest is a central feature of a democratic society" and cannot be seen as a "revolt".

He said the government's reaction to widespread non-violent protests, which sometimes turned violent, had been commendable. "Government has not responded as beleaguered governments do: there has been no shaking of fists, but an acknowledgement that these protests are by citizens exercising their democratic rights."

The challenge was to encourage what Friedman termed "active citizenship". As an example of this he cited the HIV/AIDS lobby organisation, Treatment Action Campaign, whose approach was to use their right to campaign for what they wanted and hold government accountable for providing it.

Report can be found online at:

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