Wednesday’s national shutdown probably won’t draw large protest crowds, Vavi acknowledges

Saftu Leadership during Working Class Summit at Braamfontein Recreational Centre on August 05, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Saftu Leadership during Working Class Summit at Braamfontein Recreational Centre on August 05, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle

  • SA Federation of Trade Unions secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said that a national shutdown on Wednesday was unlikely to draw large demonstrations.
  • This is mainly due to a deterioration in public transport.
  • Vavi urged workers to show their support for the strike by withdrawing their labour and staying home.
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South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi acknowledged that Wednesday’s national shutdown demonstrations will not draw numbers remotely close to the mass protests in 2018.

However, he said Saftu and other labour formations expected the mass action to shut the economy down if workers around the country agreed to withdraw their labour and stay home. Saftu is one of many organisations planning demonstrations against the rising cost of living set for Wednesday.

Organisers’ demands include a R1 500 basic income grant, the de-escalation of the interest rates, fuel, electricity, and food costs, an end to the privatisation of government institutions, as well as an end to wage cuts and below-inflation wage increases in the private and public sector.

Cosatu – the ANC-aligned labour federation that Vavi used to lead until his expulsion in 2015 – has also planned a national shutdown for Wednesday. The two federations have agreed to cooperate in demonstrations.

READ | Saftu national shutdown hits first snag as Numsa says it cannot financially back strike

Speaking at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Monday, Vavi said the federation and its partners in the action were not expecting tens of thousands people to take to the streets – like they did in 2018 during mass protests – due to the deterioration of public transport in recent years.

“We are not emphasising the numbers of people. In fact, we will not see anything close to what we saw in 2018 because there are no trains in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Taxis can support us, but they only take a handful at a time. We are emphasising the need for workers to stay at home,” said Vavi.

Vavi said the national shutdown enjoyed the support of over 200 organisations, who endorsed the call by Saftu along with countless left-leaning parties including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), and others.

Referring to the South African Reserve Bank’s decision to increase the interest rate by 75 basis points earlier this year, Vavi said the financial distress being faced by households is a powder keg as the buying power of workers’ wages continues to decline and unemployment continues to rise.

“As a result of wage cuts and below inflation increases, the catastrophic levels of unemployment, it’s even more difficult for households to cope. The burden of looking after the unemployed in households falls squarely on the few employed members,” Vavi said.

READ | Saftu plans August ‘shutdown’ over Eskom, economic crisis – Vavi

Vavi said Saftu and its affiliates managed to arrange marches in every province except for the North West and KwaZulu Natal. He said the federation expected supporting organisations to arrange their own demonstrations on the day with “less competition and more cooperation”.

He estimated that the support package it demanded from the government would cost R1 trillion, adding that this amount could be recovered if the government clamped down on illicit financial flows and recovered money lost to corrupt state contracts. He said the national shutdown should be considered as the beginning of an extended programme of demonstrations.

“We are going beyond the 24 October budget statement to the State of The Nation Address. And we will keep going. We will go to Eskom to demand to reduce tariffs and an end to load shedding. We will go to Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] to demand that they introduce trains. We demand that the government acts on postal services,” he said.

Demonstrations on Wednesday will include a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, a march to the Parliament in the Western Cape, a march to the Free State Premier’s office in Mangaung, and a march to Eskom Park in Witbank, Mpumalanga.

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