Democracy in South Africa is a messy business

Another strike, another big stink? The South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) is threatening to go on strike next week. This after president Jacob Zuma forgot to consult the 220,000 member union before signing the Municipal Systems Amdendment Bill into law. Not that the president is obliged to consult unions before signing bills into law, in this instance Zuma made a pledge to the SAMWU that he would consult them before signing the bill.

Ozias Tungwarara's picture

Regional manager with the Africa Regional Office

July 15th, 2011


The South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) is threatening to go on strike next week.  This after president Jacob Zuma forgot to consult the 220,000 member union before signing the Municipal Systems Amdendment Bill into law.  Not that the president is obliged to consult unions before signing bills into law, in this instance Zuma made a pledge to the SAMWU that he would consult them before signing the bill.

The pledge was made when SAMWU threatened to go on strike in May this year on the eve of the local government elections that were held on May 18th.  Because of the pledge the strike was successfully averted and local elections went ahead fairly smoothly.  Yesterday Zuma apologized to SAMWU telling them that he had forgotten to consult them because he was going on an overseas business trip.  The apology was rejected.  SAMWU argues that the law in question is undemocratic because it gives the minister of cooparative governance and traditional affairs powers to intervene in labour disputes that would undermine the union's bargaining power.  SAMWU is also seeking guarantees from the South Africa Local Government Association (SALGA) for the protection of its members who blew the whistle against corruption and nepotism.  They are also demanding an 18%pay hike while SALGA is only offering 6.8%.

A robust union movement is healthy for South Africa's young democracy.  We are already bracing ourselves for the stink that the planned srtike will raise.  Previous SAMWU strikes have left maggots crawling out of refuse bins and unleashed a plague of rats due to uncollected refuse.  Previous strikes have also been rowdy and at times violent with cases of intimidation of innocent citizens being reported.  Electricity and water suuplies have also been disrupted.  During the strike Joburg CBD is usually trashed when striking members empty rubbish into the streets.  Democracy is the best guarantor of basic freedoms but it can be messy.  Eish!

About the author(s)

Ozias Tungwarara is the regional manager with the Africa Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) network based in Johannesburg.

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