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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Au 9è jour, le bras de fer sur les salaires s’amplifie

by Rosa Moussaoui

South Africa’s Public Workers Still on Strike

Translated Thursday 2 September 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Raphaël Porteilla, lecturer at the university of Burgundy, and author of South-Africa: The Long Road to Democracy [1] is interviewed by Rosa Moussaoui: “Equality," he maintains, "is now the incontrovertible challenge for South Africa.”

As the strike went into its ninth day, the tug of war over wages between the government and public workers only got tougher: thousands of South African civil workers in several towns turned out into the streets and the strike got massive support. The movement testifies to a deep split over economic choices.

HUMA: Is the South African public workers’ strike a political confrontation?

PORTEILLA: It certainly is. COSATU (the Confederation of Trade Unions) is determined to get the hikes it claims for wages and the housing allowance. An alternative orientation must be sought for the economy. The debate has been going on for ten years in a muted form within the tri-partite alliance between COSATU, the ANC, and the Communist Party. It is time for South Africa to define a new economic policy. That’s what these social conflicts mean.

HUMA: Does it mean that Jacob Zuma has not given sufficient proof of his commitment to labour?

PORTEILLA: He hasn’t. Despite their leftist, vaguely socialist flavour, his speeches have so far shown him to follow in the footsteps of Thabo Mbeki’ (his predecessor), who pursued neo-liberal policies with a slight social tinge.

HUMA: What is the position of the Communist Party?

PORTEILLA: It is a difficult position as two of its prominent leaders are in the cabinet, which had never been the case before. That puts the CP in a delicate position (as Zuma expected it would), between seemingly timid support for the strikers and governmental solidarity.

HUMA: Can the country find a way out of its contradictions?

PORTEILLA: By renouncing the financial and budgetary gospel of the Mbeki years. By becoming a laboratory for novel choices, by breaking with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. COSATU insists for instance that a general wage increase would benefit the economy. The country is also badly in need of an agrarian reform, which alone can defuse a major conflict with the rural populations, which have suffered so much under apartheid. South Africa has become one of the most in-egalitarian countries in the world. The ANC, the national liberation movement, has no doubt met the challenge of bringing freedom. But the challenge of equality still has to be met.

[1l’Afrique du Sud: le long chemin vers la démocratie, Infolio, 2010

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