South Africa strikes continue with schools, hospitals shut

An ongoing national South Africa strike by government workers was calmer on Friday, after violent protests flared earlier in the week. Many schools remain closed and some hospitals are turning patients away.

Rogan Ward/Reuters
Striking hospital workers picket at the entrance to the Nkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital as state workers seeking higher wages continue to strike in Durban on Friday. The strike by more than 1 million state workers seeking higher wages began on Wednesday.

Soldiers and the South African Police Service (SAPS) on Friday increased their visibility in Johannesburg's main trouble areas following violent labor protests that left dozens of people injured and property worth thousands of dollars reportedly destroyed.

The ruling African National Congress and labor unions have condemned the violence, which comes amid a national public workers strike that has shut down schools and seen patients turned away from hospitals across the country.

Today there were peaceful strike marches across Johannesburg's Main Street and Commissioner Street, leading to the Library Gardens, where government workers later converged. The demonstrators were escorted by both police and members of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Service to ensure peace prevailed.

The huge march blocked traffic for more than two hours.

Gauteng Provincial Police spokesman Brigadier Govindsamy Mariemuthoo told the Monitor the heavy police presence was aimed at dealing with and deterring rowdy elements.

"We are monitoring the strike with keen interest. Police details will not allow members of the public, particularly the protesters, to take the law into their own hands by intimidating and harassing innocent people.

"Police will not hesitate to arrest such hooligans. The protests should be conducted in a peaceful manner so as not to destabilize peace in the country," says Mr. Mariemuthoo.

ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu urged President Jacob Zuma's administration to quickly engage unions in finding a speedy solution to the public service workers' dispute.

"With school examinations not far off, the strike action has brought almost all public schools to a standstill, something that has adversely affected thousands of learners,” said Mr. Mthembu.

"Patients – among them the critically sick – in most public hospitals are being turned away, creating an unhealthy and chaotic situation in the public health sector," Mthembu added.

The public sector’s secretary general for teachers, Mugwena Maluleke, tried to offer reassurance as his members engage in the indefinite strike.

The "South Africa Democratic Teachers Union condemns violence against or conducted by our members. The union's policy denounces violence and intimidation from any quarter," said Mr. Maluleke.

About 1.3 million government employees embarked on an indefinite strike Wednesday demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase and a R1000 ($137) housing allowance.

But the government insists that it cannot afford anything above a 7 percent wage increase and R700 housing allowance.

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