South African Union Leader Calls VAT Strike a Success
JOHANNESBURG — BLACKS in South Africa won the first round in their fight for a greater share in economic decisionmaking, with the overwhelming success of a 48-hour national strike.On Nov. 5, from Soweto, the nation's largest township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, to the Cape Peninsula, most trains were virtually empty and mini-bus taxis did not run. This set the scene for the final day of the strike by an estimated 2.5 million blacks, protesting the imposition in October of a value-added tax (VAT) on virtually all food, goods and services, and medicine. Some basic foods such as corn meal and brown bread are excluded. Leading up to the stayaway, at least 17 people were killed and 43 injured, but this was almost entirely the result of one incident at a gold mine at Welkom in the Orange Free State. The cause of the battle between workers at the site is still disputed by employers and unions. On Nov. 3, 15 miners were killed and 43 injured. Anglo-American Corporation claims two groups of miners clashed when one group, "apparently in support of the VAT strike," tried to prevent the other from beginning the night shift. But the National Union of Mine Workers spokesman, Jerry Majatladi, said workers returning to the mine from an anti-VAT rally were attacked. He implicated mine security officers in the violence. This prompted the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Jay Naidoo, on Nov. 4 to describe the strike as "not only a massive success in terms of numbers but also a remarkable show of discipline and unity." Two other men were killed in another township, but police were unsure if the deaths were related to the strike. And police shot dead one protester and injured five others in Daveytown township to the east of Johannesburg. Although the strike was nominally about VAT, the real issue concerned the trade unions and black liberation parties gaining a bigger say in the running of the economy. COSATU and the African National Congress claim it was wrong for the government to bring in such a major measure as VAT during a period of political transition and without properly consulting the black majority, who would be most affected. On the morning of Nov. 5, bomb blasts disrupted service on train lines in the Cape and near Johannesburg.