WEDNESDAY NATIONAL SHUTDOWN
Jobs, crime and cost of food, transport and electricity top marchers’ litany of woe
National shutdown activities on Wednesday saw about 300 workers affiliated with the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) march through Cape Town, calling for a reduction in food, electricity and fuel prices. Daily Maverick spoke to several protesters about their reasons for taking to the streets.
When Daily Maverick arrived at Hanover Street in Cape Town at 9am on Wednesday, only a few South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) members had begun gathering in preparation for the day’s march as part of the national shutdown.
By 11.30am, the group of Saftu-affiliated workers had grown into a few hundred protesters, albeit a much smaller group than the 1,000 the trade union had predicted. The protesters marched to the Cape Town Civic Centre, then to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, the Western Cape Legislature and finally to Parliament. They presented a memorandum detailing a list of demands at every stop.
Saftu’s demands dealt with, among other socioeconomic woes in South Africa, the rising cost of living, unemployment, rolling blackouts and crime.
— SAFTU (@SAFTU_media) August 24, 2022
Speaking to Daily Maverick as workers and Saftu members began gathering on Hanover Street, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) Western Cape chairperson, Mzimasi Nama, said the federation in the province had decided to participate in the march, and that its members were demanding that food, electricity and fuel prices be reduced.
“We know that if we aren’t doing movements or actions like this, we will continue to suffer as the working class. So we decided to go out and challenge the government to lower prices of food and necessities,” Nama told Daily Maverick.
“We can’t continue to live in these conditions. The lives of ordinary South Africans in [informal settlements] are miserable,” he added.
Nama said he had experienced the pinch of rising food costs and ever-increasing taxi fares and was in a “very tight situation” financially.
“For example, if you take a taxi to town it’s R50, and where we are working, increases are very difficult to get from employers,” he said.
“Our own President is living with money under the mattresses. Why are South Africans — his people — suffering?”
Before rushing off to join the growing crowd of workers, Nama warned that Tuesday’s national shutdown was just the beginning of more protest action.
“This is a start. We want to continue to show this government that we are fed up,” he said.
Among Saftu’s list of demands on Wednesday was an end to rampant crime and violence.
Khayelitsha resident Current Pongwana, who was dancing at the front of the crowd of protesters for most of the day, told Daily Maverick that crime and violence had risen in the area, and he was concerned for the safety of his family.
“It’s hard living there,” said Pongwana. “There’s too much crime, our people are scared.”
At 12.50pm, Saftu members gathered outside the Cape Town Civic Centre, where the organisers handed over their memorandum to Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis to sign. Speaking outside the Civic Centre, Saftu leadership called for “an end to crime and violence, particularly gender-based violence” in the country.
Addressing the crowd, Hill-Lewis said: “Every single violent crime against a woman in our city is one too much. That is why we are deploying 1,232 law enforcement officers in the 12 worst [crime] hotspots in our city.”
The deployment is in areas including Crossroads (Lower), Nyanga, Harare, Khayelitsha, Philippi, Philippi East, Hanover Park, Bishop Lavis, Mitchells Plain, Kraaifontein and Delft.
Echoing the concerns of many other protesters, Pongwana said he struggled to afford transport costs to and from his place of work in Maitland.
“The taxi [fares] are too much. Soon I’m going to have to walk to my job,” he said.
Daily Maverick spoke to Mthetho Thunzi as marchers gathered outside the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) on Plein Street to hand over a memorandum of demands to DMRE regional manager Pieter Swart. The memorandum, which Swart signed on behalf of the department, called for more affordable electricity and an end to rolling blackouts.
Thunzi stood on the outskirts of the group, observing, and explained to Daily Maverick that he had come from the second march where more than 100 Cosatu members had gathered outside the Cape Town railway station to call for a secure, affordable and reliable rail system.
He said the demands Saftu was making over the rising cost of living, unemployment and rolling blackouts were also “big concerns” of his.
Cosatu members so far at the Cape Town train station. They’re part of a union-backed national shutdown against the costs of living. The group is picketing for a functional rail system.@dailymaverick pic.twitter.com/M0IpzUj8ej
— Suné Payne (@SunePayne) August 24, 2022
Thunzi lives in Khayelitsha and has worked in construction for several years. He is the breadwinner of his family.
“Cost of living is too high. The money that I get, I spend on transport to get to work. I’m finding that I can’t afford other things like food, electricity and water. So how do I provide for my family?” he said.
Thunzi said that although money had been tight for a while, it became a particular worry during the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was tough during Covid, but it’s tough even today. Although they say that the unemployment [rate] has gone down, it went down only a little bit. It’s nothing actually,” said Thunzi.
“Everything is expensive. Petrol went up. The taxi fares went up. The bus fares went up. Food and electricity went up. I can’t afford to live any more,” said Shamsunissa Samuels, a protester from Heideveld, who spoke to Daily Maverick outside the Western Cape Legislature.
Unemployed since mid-2020, Samuels, with her 83-year-old mother and her daughter, survive on her mother’s pension.
“It’s very, very difficult,” said Samuels.
Samuels said since she lost her job in 2020, she hasn’t received the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant.
“When we went to collect it, we were told that it’s pending. After a few months, we just stopped going back because it cost us more money to get to the post office,” Samuels told Daily Maverick.
Read in Daily Maverick: As prices rise, the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant buys less and less
“We had to struggle a lot [during Covid-19]. I often didn’t have food to put on the table for my child and my mother.”
Samuels said she came to see workers demand change in the country and call for a reduction in the cost of living.
“There needs to be a lot of change.” DM