By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2573

What’s behind the call for a general strike in South Africa?

This article is over 4 years, 4 months old
Issue 2573
Workers recently protesting for the minimum wage
Workers recently protesting for the minimum wage (Pic: NUMSA)

The Cosatu trade union federation in South Africa has called a general strike for next Wednesday, 27 September.

It is the latest phase in the grinding political crisis of president Jacob Zuma.

Cosatu leaders have always loyally backed the African National Congress (ANC) government. So it is remarkable to find them saying, “the current South African administration has been captured and there is a network of the predatory elite that is engaged in looting of state resources and corrupt activities.

 “This perilous situation must be addressed forthwith by mobilising against this predatory elite and pushing for processes that will ultimately dismantle their network.”

There have been repeated revelations about the ultra-rich Gupta family who have close connections with Zuma.

There is clear evidence that the Guptas influenced who was appointed at the top of the government and received confidential information on cabinet meetings.

They controlled the actions of certain cabinet ministers and the board members of state-run firms and profited from government contracts. British PR firm Bell Pottinger was recently implicated in the Gupta’s affairs and auditor KPMG is also under investigation.


There are many good reasons to join a strike against Zuma’s corruption and his pro-business policies. Levels of unemployment and inequality are higher than under the racist apartheid regime.

But it is impossible to separate the strike call from manoeuvres inside the ANC and the trade union movement.

The ANC have a congress in December that will choose a new leader. They will be expected to become president after the next national elections in 2019.

Zuma is hoping his successor will be his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She would be expected to block any prosecutions concerning the 780 alleged offences he has committed in office.

The other main candidate, backed by Cosatu, is Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa is both fabulously wealthy and associated with the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana in 2012.

He was a non-executive director of Lonmin, the mining firm which worked with the police to carry out the killings. Ramaphosa played a key role in the events, demanding “action” against the strikers.


Yet Cosatu leaders openly back him, and the Communist Party does more covertly. The upcoming general strike could therefore be seen as another part of the battle to elevate a mass murderer to the ANC leadership.

In addition, Cosatu, which played a magnificent role in the fight against apartheid but has spent a decade working with a neoliberal government, is trying to paint itself in militant colours again.

Busisiwe, a member of the Cosatu union in health, told Socialist Worker, “There is a feeling for the strike. We are so tired of corruption. But I also like very much the demand for housing for public service workers.”

But she added, “I am worried that this is less a serious battle for workers’ conditions and political change and more about who is in the top jobs.”

Four years ago the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said it would no longer support the ANC and was then expelled from Cosatu. It has gathered around itself another 20 unions in a rival federation to Cosatu.

This South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is based on more militant policies and workers’ independence from the ANC. It threatens Cosatu’s role as the “voice of labour”.

SAFTU has so far made no statement about the 27 September strike, but is unlikely to support it.

South Africa remains a centre of protests with strikes and a high level of demonstrations and militant pickets over housing and lack of services. There are also student protests and anti-racist struggles. 

But the political leadership remains weak and fractured and too often focused on manoeuvres at the top.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance