Metalworkers’ union, Numsa, in Johannesburg has joined a Saftu nationwide stay-away aimed at highlighting the plight of workers as companies continue to cut jobs in a sluggish economy that’s been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yesterday, Statistics South Africa revealed that at least 11 million South Africans are out of work, with the unemployment rate sitting at 32.5%.
Workers are demanding various things, including salary hikes and improved worker safety.
The pickets, under the Saftu umbrella, in the city have taken place at the Johannesburg Central Police Station and the Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto.
The strike coincides with the Finance Minister’s budget speech that’s being table on Wednesday afternoon.
Saftu says it doesn’t have high hopes for the budget.
“We know that he is going to present an austerity budget, a budget that is pro-rich and this is informed by his fear for the raiding agencies, his love for business people, banks, his hatred for state own entities. So there is going to be nothing really for the working class and the poor people in this country,” says Saftu President, Mac Chavalala.
He adds: “We think that he is also going to be following in the presidents footsteps in his state of the nation address, where the president basically presented nothing expect to tell us that he is going to address the triple prices through BEE and he wanted us to clap hands for that and for the fact that the country is now producing 1 million chickens per week as if workers and the poor people want chickens,” Chavalala.
Chavalala says workers don’t want chickens, but want jobs. “We are not told how many jobs were created as a result of that, we suspect that some of these companies were created just for tendering purposes and nothing else. So we can’t celebrate the building of smart cities as if those things are actually creating jobs for our economy. Hence we are saying that we don’t expect anything coming from Tito Mboweni,”adds Chavalala.
Education researcher, teacher and policy analyst, Sara Black, is also not optimistic that education will be prioritised in Mboweni’s speech.
“I don’t hold a lot optimism of education being prioritised to the degree that it needs to be, we know that Mr Mboweni has been a long term advocate for an austerity style of budgeting, very reluctant to consider redirecting funds from parastatals towards basic institutions such as education or even health.
We know for a long time that education budget is inadequate to the task even though we have been told that it is a large percentage of the budget pie. That narrative fails to account for that fact the pie is very small for the numerable mouths that it’s supposed to feed,” concludes Black.
Rights group, Equal Education, is meanwhile protesting outside Parliament in Cape Town, demanding that the Minister prioritises education in his budget speech.
The organisation wants Minister Mboweni to reverse cuts in the Basic Education budget.
Civil society organisations are calling for an end to budget cuts ahead of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s Medium-Term Budget to be delivered on Wednesday.
The organisations under the movement, Cry of the Xcluded, says COVID-19 and the economic and social lockdown has laid bare the failures of the government’s pro-business approach.
The movement includes the Assembly of the Unemployed, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the Associations of Mineworkers and Construction (Amcu).
“We have seen over 2.3 million jobs lost, many of us forced into precarious work, our families went to bed hungry and inequality has worsened. Now, we hear that while Tito Mboweni’s stomach is full, he wants to cut more jobs in the public sector as well as cut spending on the essential services and social grants many of us need to survive. But, we cannot afford any further budget cuts! The rich and powerful will continue to laugh as tax cuts make them richer and more powerful, while our suffering worsens and we go to bed hungry, in cold shacks with no sanitation or electricity. Why does government hate the unemployed and the poor so much?”
The civil rights activists believe that government should now be spending more on building houses for the poor and health facilities while also hiring more medical staff.
They want the issue of water and sanitation at rural schools also addressed. In 2019, around 4 500 South African schools still had pit latrines, while in 2018, 23 schools in the Eastern Cape were still without sanitation facilities at all.
The pit toilets claimed the life of Limpopo’s Chebeng Village learner Michael Komape (5) in 2014. Komape drowned in excrement after falling into it at school. He became the face of an expose of the poor state of South Africa’s school infrastructure. Several other children have met a similar fate in various parts of the country. In August 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to rid the country’s schools of pit latrines within two years.
“No more Michael Komapes! How do you do that without spending money? We need support for jobless peoples, children, the elderly, single parents, and those living with disabilities. How do you do that without spending money? We need to shift from mining, and the toxic old mines that destroy our land and make us sick must be rehabilitated. We reject any budget cuts proposed by the government! This is not the way to address the debt and unemployment crisis, and deepening inequality.”
The Cry of the Xcluded is urging government to increase the wealthy’s tax rates, close tax and wage evasion loopholes, utilizing surpluses managed by the Public Investment Corporation as well as prescribed assets, offer real and tangible funding sources for a reinvigorated public sector.
The movement plans to hold a series of protests across all South Africa’s nine provinces, demanding an end to budget cuts. On Wednesday, the activists will also protest outside Parliament.
In October, the Budget Justice Coalition (BJC) tabled an alternative human rights budget, Imali Yesizwe (Our Nation’s Money). The BJC expressed increased concern about government’s “continued steps to cut back on the social spending that is needed to fulfil socio-economic rights, which are enshrined by the South African constitution and international law.”