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Thousands protest in Cape Town against national minimum wage

CAPE TOWN, (Xinhua) -- Thousands of Capetonians took to the streets on Wednesday in protest against the national minimum wage (NMW).

The protesters were answering the call by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) to shut down the country. Similar protests also took place in other major cities across South Africa.

The protests coincided with a nation-wide strike by thousands of drivers who downed tools last week to press their demand for wage increases, bringing public transport to a standstill.

In Cape Town, protesters, most of them dressed in red, were marching to the Civic Center before making their way to Parliament to deliver a memorandum of demands.

A large police contingent was keeping a watchful eye on the protesters. So far the protest went on peacefully.

The protesters are demanding a higher NMW, taking into consideration the recent hike in the value-added tax from 14 percent to 15 percent and a number of levy increases, including the Fuel Levy and Road Accident Levy.

The government is pushing the current NMW, which is 3,500 rand (about 292 U.S. dollars) per month or 20 rand per hour.

“We are not slaves. We demand a living wage,” some protesters shouted.

Bob Hewit, a 39-year-old construction worker, said he has a family of four to support. “My wife has no job and my children go to school. I’m the only bread owner in the family. Can you imagine that my family can live on 3,500 rand a month?” he asked with a sigh.

The federation assured that the protests would be peaceful but effective.

“Support is growing daily and we are confident that we shall bring South Africa to a standstill and fill the towns and villages with angry workers, employed and unemployed, members of all unions or none, who are demanding action to end the country’s crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality,” the SAFTU said.

The federation also demands amendments to labor laws which it says will destroy workers’ constitutional right to strike.

South Africa is among the most unequal countries in the world, in which 10 percent of the population earn more than 50 percent of the household incomes while 20 percent earn less than 1.5 percent.

The SAFTU cited figures from audit and consulting firm Deloitte as saying that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now 17.97 million rand a year.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labor reportedly has decided to refer the NMW Bill back to the Department of Labor to be redrafted so that it includes the public input.

Despite the government’s assurance that the 20-rand per hour amount in the NMW Bill is a starting figure that would be reviewed yearly, the SAFTU argues that reviewing the 20-rand per hour poverty wage every year will not in any way alter the fact that it will still be a poverty wage on which no one should be expected to live.

“It (the NMW) perpetuates and legitimizes the unequal apartheid wage structure, and will keep millions of workers mired in poverty and make South Africa an even more unequal society,” the SAFTU said.



South Africa government urges protesters to refrain from violence

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- As protests against the national minimum wage (NMW) took place across the country, the South African government on Wednesday urged protesters to refrain from violence.

“We call on all those participating in the marches across the various provinces to refrain from violence, destruction of property and intimidation,” said Phumla Williams, Acting Director-General of the Government and Communication Information System (GCIS).

The right to assemble and to protest in order to advance a particular cause is enshrined in the South African Constitution, Williams said.

However, it also equally caters for protesters to conduct themselves in a responsible manner, she said.

“Peaceful protests are quintessentially a characteristic of a strengthened democratic and progressive society,” Williams added.

The rights of people who do not want to participate in the marches must be respected, Williams stated.

When marches deviate from the intended cause and becomes characterized by violence, looting and civil-disobedience, it is less likely to produce democratic progress, she said.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has mobilized workers and employees to shut down the country with nationwide protests.

All major cities have been affected. In Cape Town, thousands of people were marching to the Civic Center before making their way to Parliament to deliver a memorandum of demands.

“Government further calls upon the conveners of the march to ensure that chaos does not ensue around Parliament, as it is a national key point, and the highest law making arm of the State,” Williams said.

The same sentiments should be applied to other areas across the country, where members plan to gather, she said.

The government appeals to all unions and those participating in the march to allow the law enforcement agencies the space to work and safeguard properties in line with the Regulation of Gatherings Act, Williams said.

“Law enforcement has a duty to protect and ensure the safety and security of all people in South Africa. The law enforcement agencies have a constitutional obligation to protect and ensure all citizens are and feel safe in South Africa,” added Williams.

The protesters are demanding a higher NMW, taking into consideration the recent hike in the value-added tax (VAT) from 14 percent to 15 percent and a number of levy increases, including the Fuel Levy and Road Accident Levy.

The government is pushing the current NMW, which is 3,500 rand (about 292 U.S. dollars) per month or 20 rand (about 1.7 dollars) per hour.

The SAFTU argues that the NMW perpetuates and legitimizes the unequal apartheid wage structure, and will keep millions of workers mired in poverty and make South Africa an even more unequal society.

The federation said more than 20 unions took part in various marches to put pressure on the government not to implement the NMW Bill.


South Africa  civil servants ask to meet President to address strike

JOHANNESBURG South Africa (Xinhua) -- The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) requested to meet South African President Cyril Ramaphosa over strikes taking place in the country’s North West province.

At a press briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said they had written to the President on Tuesday morning and requested an urgent meeting to resolve the impasse.

The civil servants under Nehawu on February 19 embarked on an industrial action over salary disagreements and other grievances. Ramaphosa last Friday visited the province and consulted with the government officials and members of the African National Congress, the ruling party.

Nehawu is accusing the provincial government of North West of corruption and poor service delivery. Saphetha said they also want the North West premier Supra Mahumapelo to resign, threatening that they will escalate the strike if their grievances are not met.

“The national union vows to intensify the current ongoing strike action in North West government because of the intransigence and heightened levels of arrogance displayed by the provincial government,” Saphetha said.

He warned that if the deadlock is not broken by May 18, other civil servants under Nehawu in the whole country would join the strike in solidarity with those in North West.

Nehawu is demanding that some contracts which they deem were corruptly signed be cancelled. They are also demanding a salary increase for community health workers.

The government has deployed the army health personnel in the North West province to assist in the health centers, a move dismissed by Saphetha as an insult to the “collective bargaining”.

The community in the North West joined the Nehawu strike last Wednesday but ended on Friday. There has been some looting of shops and destruction of public infrastructure in the area.


South African government appeals court ruling on mining charter

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) said on Tuesday it has approached the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to appeal a judgment on the Mining Charter.

The move was taken after careful consideration, the DMR said in a statement.

This came after the High Court in Pretoria meted out a majority judgment earlier this month that the first two versions of the Mining Charter did not require producers to top up black shareholding.

Under the ruling, empowerment deals did not need to be topped up once a company had reached the 26-percent black ownership level and companies could not be penalized for falling below this level.

This ruling is in favor of the Chamber of Mines which argues that the first and second versions of the charter did not stipulate the need for mining companies to perpetually keep black empowerment levels at 26 percent once the original beneficiaries left.

The government has strongly pushed for the Mining Charter, under which a new mining right must have 30-percent black persons’ shareholding, up from the previous 26 percent.

But the Chamber of Mines, which represents 90 percent of South Africa’s mines, objects to the charter.

In its Tuesday statement, the DMR voiced concern over the implications of the judgment on the attainment of the objective to sustainably transform South Africa’s mining industry by bringing in new entrants and empowering workers and communities in mining towns.

The department warned that the judgment has dire implications for the economic transformation imperatives of the constitution, the mining sector and South Africa at large.

“It further has the potential of extending regulatory and policy uncertainty, and sterilization of our mineral resources, with grave economic growth and employment implications,” said the department.


South African MPs urges faster change to Immigration Act

CAPE TOWN South Africa  (Xinhua) -- A committee of South Africa’s parliament on Tuesday lambasted the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) for its “sluggish manner” to remedy the Immigration Act in accordance with a court ruling.

This delay is “unacceptable,” Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs Chairperson Donald Gumede said in a statement emailed to Xinhua.

On June 29 last year, the Constitutional Court confirmed a High Court ruling that declared Section 34 of the Immigration Act inconsistent with the Constitution in that the Act does not allow a detained illegal foreigner to challenge the lawfulness of his detention in person in court within 48 hours.

This declaration of constitutional invalidity was suspended for 24 months to enable a process to remedy the defect. Once the defect is remedied, the government will get rules for treatment of suspected illegal foreigners.

The judgment was hailed as a vindication of constitutional principles and human rights for everyone in South Africa, including foreigners.

The DHA, however, did not start the process until now.

“This means the department essentially took nine months to start this process,” Gumede said.

Gumede said his committee had sought clarity on the matter, but the minister of home affairs, his deputy, the DHA director-general were absent from a previous parliament hearing.

The committee has unanimously resolved to call the officials to appear before it in its next meeting to account on reasons of the delay.

“Court rulings must be respected as they guide us and ensure that our constitution is adhered to,” Gumede said.


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