Tomorrow the 12 day Public Service Workers’ Strike will be expanded by the addition of members of various other unions, either striking, or picketing during their free hour(s) of the day. The largest labour union in South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), will not be participating as it has not provided the requisite notice of 10 days. I have been informed, as reliably as one possibly can be, that our office cleaner will not be in tomorrow due to the participation of taxi-drivers in the strike tomorrow. This means that bus-drivers will in all probability also be off; they tend not to be a allowed to work by striking taxi-drivers. The 120000-strong South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has indicated that “none of the services provided by municipalities will be available”; whether this means they will be also be striking or just working to mean is to be seen.
So, tomorrow will in all likelihood be the largest strike action since the fall of Apartheid 13 years ago. I support the strikers’ constitutional right to strike but, unlike their Union leaders who “do not condone but cannot condemn” the acts of violence and the human cost of the strike, I cannot accept the violence, intimidation and indirect human cost of the strike. These strikers (of which, one is a close friend of mine) has reason to strike: they are paid a pittence! That reason, however desperate, does not constitute a license to engage in violent protest, nor does it mean that essential services should engage in the strike either. People have died in KwaZulu-Natal because of the reduced capacity of the emergency services and state hospitals; this is just not good enough.
My brother (Jason) and I drove to the state-run hospital in Kwadukuza (Stanger) on Sunday evening to drop of a cell-phone, food, water and blankets with our domestic servant who was in the maternity ward. We were met by police outside the gates of the hospital; that was good to know. The hospital, however, was next to empty. Jason and I were impressed with the hospital; it was clean, well put together and modern, but it was empty. We found Winnie in the maternity ward extremely uncomfortable and without much assistance. We felt helpless. We had checked with the local Private Alberlito hospital, but it said it was choc-full. There was one sister and one doctor on duty in the ward. They were heroes to me. The fact that they were there when everyone else had abandoned their patients, that was something special.
Tomorrow will be day 13 of the strike, and quite possibly the day which will define it and by which it will be remembered. I hope it will be remembered for the peaceful solidarity expressed by the strikers and their sympathetic supporters, but it might very well not be. Time will tell nonetheless.