Wednesday, March 07, 2012

COSATU Demands Action From the South African Government on Labour Brokerages and E-Tolls

Cosatu throws down the gauntlet to government


Cosatu launched the largest planned civil protest since the dawn of democracy on Wednesday, voicing South African workers' discontent over labour brokerages and the planned implementation of e-tolling on the nation's roads.

The march was not simply a protest by the union federation, but rather a massive non-partisan show of force, where South Africans from various backgrounds united around a common purpose and demanding that their voices be heard.

"They must listen today. We are tired of the government's empty promises. They take and take but they are not delivering," Bongani Ntuli, a metalworker from Tembisa told the Mail & Guardian.

Although Cosatu members made up the bulk of the march, they were joined by many civic organisations, opposition parties and members of the country's middle class.

Not just Jules

The march also enjoyed the public support of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who raised the level of excitement by several notches when he joined the march to address protesters in Johannesburg, claiming that -- for the day at least -- "Comrade Vavi is my leader".

In Cape Town, about 8 000 protesters handed over a memorandum of demands to the Cape Chamber of Commerce outside Cape Town City Hall, in what was described as an "orderly" and "peaceful" march.

In Durban, about 10 000 protesters assembled at City Hall gardens, where they were addressed by South African Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande, who described labour brokerages as slave traders.

"We want to say as South African communists that we are in full support of the workers' efforts to end this modern-day slavery," he said.

Cosatu also claimed to have tens of thousands of people marching at a time across smaller centres in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

And the labour federation's North West spokesperson Solly Phetoe said between 20 000 and 35 000 people marched in Rustenburg; in Klerksdorp between 15 000 and 20 000 people; and in Mahikeng between 10 000 and 20 000 -- although these figures could not be confirmed, and analysts expressed serious doubts that these were accurate estimates.

Happy marching on Jozi streets

There was a jovial atmosphere among marchers in Johannesburg as they gathered at Beyers Naude Square in the city centre before the march kicked off at about 10.30am.

Milling around Simmonds and President Streets, some protesters took in breakfast from street vendors selling boiled eggs and fried chicken.

"It's unfair we have to pay extra for things we have already paid for. The e-tolls are just one example of government making us pay when we've already paid taxes," Andrew Smith, an entrepreneur from Sunninghill told the M&G.

Smith said he was also there to support "our people who are being exploited by labour brokers".

"I have to admit I don't know much about the real issues but it's unfair they have to work such long hours and earn such little money," Smith added.

Whether such sentiments were of any comfort to Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela is not known. Addressing marchers a few hours later, Manamela took a swipe at the middle-class protesters and civic organisations who had joined the march primarily to protest against the government's plans to introduce e-tolling on national roads this year.

"Those opportunists joining the march only because of e-tolls must now share the struggle of the worker!" said Manamela.

Full swing

The march got into full swing at 10.30am with protesters heading down Rissik Street towards the Gauteng department of labour in Braamfontein.

En route, Malema joined the procession and was immediately swamped by supporters crying "Juju! Juju!"

Malema was expelled from the ANC last week following a lengthy disciplinary process and many saw his presence as a publicity stunt more than a showing solidarity with South Africa's citizens.

But he was quick to claim he was not on official political business.

"We are here to support the Cosatu-planned march. The ANC must listen to the masses. You are the ones who voted them in," he told protesters.

Man of the march

The leader of the day's activities, Cosatu's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, also met up with protesters along the way to Braamfontein.

"Viva Vavi, Viva!" cried marchers as they hoisted Vavi on their shoulders and carried him through the procession.

Eventually arriving at the Gauteng labour department in De Korte Street, marchers were addressed by a procession of speakers, including "people's poet" Mzwakhe Mbuli.

"It's not labour brokers, it's labour breakers -- down with slave labour!" Mbuli said, before breaking into song, singing: "Papa stop the war -- stop the exploitation", as marchers danced along.

'Shoulder to shoulder'

"We are fighting shoulder to shoulder with you comrades, to remind those who forgot the power of the working class," Vavi said to rapturous applause as he took to the microphone.

"Our campaign has only one reason: We are defending the living standards of South Africans," he added.

Vavi saved the best for last though, when the final memorandum of demands was handed over to Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane at her offices in Fox Street.

After initially enjoying pleasantries with Mokonyane as she personally accepted the memorandum, Vavi rattled off a veiled warning against the government's perceived lack of regard to the working class' concerns.

"Today was the first warning shot, but don't worry, we've got lots of bullets. If e-tolls are enforced we'll barricade the highways. The same way we made the apartheid system ungovernable, we'll make this system ungovernable," he vowed.

The government has yet to formally respond to the marches with both Cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi and presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj not responding to requests for comment by the M&G on Wednesday.

The ANC however said it was "disappointed" with Vavi's statements made during the march and said it would address the matter in further tripartite alliance meetings. --

Additional reporting by Sapa
Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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Vavi, Malema share spotlight as Cosatu march kicks off


Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema have joined the union federation's march in Jo'burg against e-tolling and labour brokers, riding high on protesters' shoulders at the head of the procession.

The flagship Johannesburg march is taking in much of the CBD and marchers are expected to cover around 10km on foot. In Cape Town and Durban, the union federation's planned marches are expected to be relatively small and cover only short distances.

The march left from Beyers Naude square in Johannesburg at about 10am on Wednesday as part of Cosatu's national protest action, wielding placards and blowing on Vuvuzelas under a fairly relaxed atmosphere, with marchers toyi-toying and singing struggle songs.

Marshals were controlling the crowd, which had almost filled the square, while more protesters joined the throngs by the busload and on foot.

There had earlier been scattered instances of intimidation, with protesters stopping taxis and trying to convince passengers and drivers to join the march -- but metro police swiftly arrived at any flash points to calm protesters.


Journalists, however, were from time to time made to feel unwelcome.

"Voetsek you bloody shit, you mustn't be here," one angry protester shouted at two journalists.

Most of the marchers were dressed in Cosatu red. Earlier in the week Cosatu had said it hoped people outside its affiliate network would join in the marches throughout the country, in particular because the impact of the labour brokers against whom they were protesting would go beyond union members.

That showed early signs of being unrealistic, however, when groups such as the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) discouraged participation.

Cosatu said it had first raised the issue of labour brokers in 2010, initially in private and through proper channels, but received no satisfactory response.

Brokers as slavers

As it grew clearer that the government was not considering, at least not in the short term, the outright ban Cosatu has demanded, the union organisation's condemnation of the entire sector grew more fierce, culminating this week in an unequivocal likening of labour brokers to slavers, forcing South African workers into economic bondage.

Unsurprisingly, the ANC has declined to endorse the march, and party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu this week questioned the motive behind Cosatu's strike action.

"Whilst we acknowledge protest as a right, the ANC is of the view that the concerns raised by Cosatu on the negative impact of tolling of roads on people who earn less is over-exaggerated, especially after government intervention on the matter. We believe that the intervention announced, by the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan during the budget speech this year, [in] the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme will go a long way to alleviate financial pressure on the poor and the working class of our country," said Mthembu.

The union federation's nationwide protest has been widely interpreted as a show of strength to remind the ANC of workers' power within the tripartite alliance -- although Cosatu has consistently denied any link between the national protest and preparations for what promises to be a fiercely contested ANC elective conference at the end of 2012.

While Cosatu played a crucial role in the election of President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader in 2007, the labour federation is increasingly becoming frustrated with the ANC's failure to implement Polokwane resolutions, which called for radical policy changes.

Show of strength

Cosatu has freely admitted that its ability to influence ANC and government policy through the tripartite alliance has proven unsatisfactory. A strong showing in the streets, a timely reminder of Cosatu's ability to mobilise workers against government (and, by extension, ANC) policy, will not go unnoticed.

But while the ruling party is sitting this one out, the ANC Youth League, however, is another story.

Whether to spite their mother body or to take up the cause of affected workers, the beleaguered leaders of the ANC youth have joined the Cosatu march, with youth league leader Malema appearing to share equal billing with Vavi, the union federation's general secretary.

Cosatu supported the league's march from Johannesburg to Pretoria late last year in demand for economic freedom. -- Additional reporting by Sapa

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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Juju: 'Today, Comrade Vavi is my leader!'


Insisting the march against labour brokerages and e-tolling was not an anti-ruling party demonstration, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has told thousands of protesters that he was there with them to remind the government to focus on the needs of workers -- and to implement the resolutions of Polokwane.

At the ANC's elective conference in Polokwane in 2009, Cosatu backed Jacob Zuma in his successful bid to replace former president Thabo Mbeki as the ruling party's leader, but has since become frustrated with the failure of Zuma's government to implement the ANC's Polokwane resolutions, which called for radical policy changes.

"This is not an anti-ANC march. It can never be. You are the ANC as am I. We will die for the ANC!" Malema told protesters outside the offices of the Gauteng labour department in Braamfontein.

'The ANC must listen to the masses'

"But today Comrade [Zwelinzima] Vavi is my leader. By marching you are telling the government to focus on your needs and resolutions of Polokwane," Malema said. "The ANC must listen to the masses. You are the ones who voted them in ... Viva ANC viva! Viva SACP viva! Viva Cosatu viva!"

Before handing over a memorandum to a labour department representative, Vavi -- Cosatu's general secretary -- told the crowd that the union federation's campaign had "only one reason: We are defending the living standards of South Africans ... we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with you, comrades, to remind those who forgot the power of the working class."

"Yes, we have political freedom, and many have houses," said Vavi. "But white monopoly capital has benefited the most since 1994. Today there are 45% of our working people living on R10 a day. This is unacceptable. People go to bed hungry while those in power have money to drink the whole night, regardless of our people's poverty."

"We live in a deeply unequal society," Vavi told the crowd. "This not a narrow issue of e-tolls and labour brokers: this is a class war."

Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela was on hand to deliver a jab at the middle-class protesters and civic organisations who had joined the march primarily to protest against the government's plans to introduce e-tolling on national roads this year.

"Those opportunists joining the march only because of e-tolls must now share the struggle of the worker!" said Manamela.

Mzwakhe Mbuli, the "people's poet", was next up, taking the microphone to underline to worker's struggle against labour brokerages: "It's not labour brokers, it's labour breakers! Down with slave labour!"

The SACP's representative was more terse: "Capitalism is the problem in SA. The labour brokers are blood-sucking f***ng capitalists."

If it's brokers, fix it

Cosatu says it first raised the issue of labour brokers as a force of oppression set against workers in 2010, initially in private and through proper channels, but received no satisfactory response.

As it grew clearer that the government was not considering, at least not in the short term, the outright ban Cosatu has demanded, the union organisation's condemnation of the entire sector grew more fierce, culminating this week in an unequivocal likening of labour brokers to slavers who force South African workers into economic bondage.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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No love for Malema at Cosatu's Polokwane protest


While the Johannesburg leg of Cosatu's national strike saw the union federation's A-listers and the ANC Youth League's top brass cosying up to each other, an ANC representative in Polokwane was rejected by Cosatu supporters, who accused him of being a friend of youth league leader Julius Malema.

Supporters said they would not be spoken to by "the ANC of [premier Cassel] Mathale, and Malema, who are thieves".

Most people in the crowd, gathered in support of Cosatu's protest, wore ANC badges and emblems.

South African Students Congress representative Themba Masondo, who spoke to marchers, said students would always back workers.

"We say no to modern slavery because if you earn R100, labour brokers give you R30 and they get R70. Students will always be with workers and please support us in our campaign for free education. We believe that through education we can earn decent salaries in [the] future when we will be workers," he said.

The crowd was expected to deliver a memorandum to Absa and Nedbank offices later on Wednesday.

Durban delays

In Durban, flights were delayed as workers arrived late.

The Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) asked travellers to arrive early for their flights on Wednesday as the effect of Cosatu's protests took hold.

"The company that supplies the fuel, Sky Tanking, has advised [us] that its employees did not report for work on time as a result of the planned national strike by Cosatu," Acsa said of the delays at King Shaka International Airport.

Acsa asked passengers to arrive early -- two and four hours before scheduled departure times -- for domestic and international flights respectively.

The situation improved as Sky Tanking and Acsa helped get staff to work but passengers could expect delays throughout the day on flights at that airport.

Cosatu's protest in Durban started an hour behind schedule on Wednesday.

There were numerous police officers along Dr Pixley ka Seme street -- formerly called West street -- and the crowd was under control.

Most shops were open prior to the march but many of the usual informal traders who sold fruits and sweets were absent.

'Worrying' reports

Metrorail said it had a slight reduction in services in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with "worrying" reports of protesters assaulting and intimidating commuters in the Leralla corridor and Kaalfontein areas.

"Incidents were reported at Elandsfontein, Kempton Park, Leralla and Kaalfontein," Metrorail said.

Services on the Leralla line were temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure. Metrorail asked police to help protect commuters and their trains.

The company asked commuters who experienced intimidation or violence to report it on 0800 127 070.

Metrobus in Johannesburg asked that commuters make alternative transport arrangements on Wednesday because it seemed some drivers had joined the strike.

In an apology to commuters, they asked that their call centre 011 375 5555, option six, be called for further queries.

Taxi exemption

South African National Taxi Council general secretary Philip Taaibosch said they had made it clear drivers should not be penalised if they decided to participate in their personal capacity.

Taxis and other forms of registered public transport are exempt from paying toll fees.

Riot police had to be summoned to the Natalspruit Hospital, east of Johannesburg as a group of people tried to stop school children boarding their taxis to school.

"There were people who were trying to prevent scholar vehicle transport," said Ekurhuleni metro police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wilfred Kgasago.

But when public order police arrived the group disappeared, said Kgasago.

The children proceeded to school unhindered and nobody was injured.

"There were no more reports of intimidation," Kgasago said.

Meanwhile, passengers were prevented from entering the Kempton Park station but this also passed and groups were allowed to board the trains to Johannesburg to join the swelling ranks of protesters in the city.

Cape Town lady sings this song

Cosatu's march in Cape Town got underway before 11am, with protesters braving blistering heat to take part.

Earlier, the crowd -- which stretched about two city blocks -- took shelter under the trees to avoid the direct sunlight. Others were singing and dancing on the street in circles carrying knobkerries.

A woman also drew the crowd's attention when, standing on the back of a Cosatu truck, broke into the controversial song Bring Me My Machine Gun -- a trademark tune of President Jacob Zuma.

The crowd started converging on Keizersgracht around 8.30am.

Children on the march

Some school children in uniform also joined the gathering's ranks.

Members of a number of Cosatu affiliate unions had come out in support of the march and included the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Municipal Workers' Union.

A strong police contingent kept watch.

As the protesters moved towards city hall, a 47-year-old Athlone school teacher -- who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation -- said he was concerned that the number of teachers in schools was diminishing.

"I am here primarily because of teachers being given letters of dismissal with very little warning. These are experienced teachers leaving us with a void."

A Cosatu marshal, who also asked not to be named, said he was optimistic that the march would get the attention of government.

"According to me, we think there will be an answer from government. The agents [labour brokers] are using our people," he said. -- Sapa

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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