South Africa finds itself looking over a precipice as the economic malaise currently being experienced all but places the nation at a point of no return, trade union federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) said in a statement published on Wednesday.
With the country facing high levels of poverty and unemployment – particularly among the youth and women – as well as rising inequalities, corruption and crime, the federation said these have reached such proportions, “that the country can be plunged into a civil war and strife if nothing is done”.
It claimed that schools, hospitals, public transport (particularly rail), the justice system, as well as correctional services centres had become “dysfunctional”.
Simultaneously, the country is being battered by an ecological crisis that creates havoc through heavy storms that have left the poor more vulnerable, with great parts of the country engulfed in long spells of drought that further threaten livelihoods, food security and sovereignty.
“We risk losing another generation of youth to drugs and a vicious cycle of crime. Women, including the aged live in fear in their homes and streets. Government is collapsing, overrun by cronyism, corruption and neglect,” the union lamented, pointing out that almost every State-owned enterprise (SOE) was facing a death spiral or financial collapse.
The union mentioned that “it is as if government officials live in Wonderland”, and questioned whether government saw the suffering of South Africans caused by economic hardship.
Women abuse and gender-based violence, in particular, was “rooted in mass unemployment and its disruption of traditional masculinity”, the union said, lamenting that while not everything is because of the sluggish economy, South Africa’s economic collapse “is making everything worse”.
Owing to the staggering amount of challenges that the country faces, Saftu on Wednesday called on South Africans “to rise up” and to, in their resistance, show that “there is another fair, just and righteous way”.
In the face of the people’s suffering, the union said the coming together of Saftu, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, as well as thousands of unemployed people organised under the Assembly of the Unemployed, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, South African Green Revolutionary Council and countless others, “is a significant step in building a mass-based campaign to confirm the neo-Apartheid capitalism that is reducing South Africa to a wasteland”.
Despite the parties’ different histories, different organisational paths, and differences over ideology, Saftu said they were “rising above all that separates [them]” to focus on what united them.
“We are seeking unity in the face of the destruction of working class life and the onslaught ahead of us,” it said, emphasising that this could not be overcome by a single trade union or movement.
Referring to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s upcoming budget speech later this month, Saftu lamented that it would, instead of overcoming the nation’s despair, “deepen the misery of the vast majority” and “intensify the misery of everyone who depends on public services”.
Instead, Saftu said the National Budget should be “a major instrument for doing something the elites do not want to hear, namely to address the plight of the poor majority, redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor and shape an economic development path, whose central focus must be putting our people to work to fix our crumbling country”.
It reiterated that “there is so much work to be done in building the houses, clinics, hospitals and providing decent education, healthcare, safety and security, something which 50-million out of 55-million desperately require”.
In turn, such a development path would require the rebuilding of electricity, public transport and food systems, and would require millions of tons of iron, steel, wood and cement and other resources.
While this would likely worsen the country’s carbon intensity, if not mitigated, Saftu said there was an opportunity to be found in the wave of hours of work to be had, which would mean that “in South Africa, there should be zero unemployment”.
Owing to this, the trade union and its partners have called for an intense internal and public debate on what kind of actions are needed to get the government and employers to meet the demands of the working class and marginalised majority.
Saftu and its partners intend to kick off their campaign by protesting at Thursday’s State of the Nation Address (SoNA), where the parties will gather at the Union Buildings, in Gauteng, and at the Cape Town picket at the Parade on February 13 to present an alternative SoNA.
The parties will also be protesting at Mboweni’s budget day speech, where the parties intend to have thousands of people march to Parliament from the Cape Town Civic Centre to “demand a budget that supports jobs, services and dignity”.