Zuma: Strikes could cause an extension of poverty

2013-05-23 15:27

Continuing wildcat strikes and tension in the mining industry could impoverish South Africa, President Jacob Zuma warned.

“If the workers demand higher wages and that becomes a point of conflict, so sharp a conflict it could produce another Marikana, then there’s something wrong in our society,” he said today in response to debate in the National House of Traditional Leaders.

Deviating from his prepared speech, the president called on traditional leaders to “engage” workers.

“The tension in the industry will not help the economy ... We could impoverish our country. That’s why the leaders ought to engage workers, so that workers understand exactly what the consequences are of their actions.

“I’m not saying workers must not strike. That is a right enshrined in the Constitution. The question is how do you do it? Do we do it to make others lose their jobs, or do we do it so that others can get more jobs?”

Zuma said the labour unrest in the mining sector was a contradiction.

“If we say we need more jobs, and ... in the process, those that are working are engaged in strikes that cause some of ... the mines ... to close, it is a contradiction.

“We are contradicting ourselves because we need more jobs, (but) we are creating a situation where the very jobs that are there are actually lessened.”

The more workers lost jobs, the more they engaged in actions that cost more jobs, said Zuma.

“It’s a contradiction. We are likely to run the economy of the country into a serious problem, and ... there will be more people unemployed. And there will therefore be an extension of poverty,” he said.

Zuma also warned on investors’ perceptions of South Africa.

“These people who put in money, unfortunately, at times, they don’t rely on facts. They rely on perceptions. And perceptions can, at times, be more dangerous than real facts.”

Earlier, Zuma told traditional leaders that while South Africa’s economy had proved “resilient”, its capacity to develop “with greater speed” was lower than it would otherwise have been.

It was important that even as the country strove to obtain a more equitable distribution of national wealth, this was done in a manner that enhanced, rather than destroyed it.

“Wildcat strikes of the type happening in the mining industry and other sectors are hardly the way to advance the interests of marginalised sections of our people in a democratic dispensation such as we have.

“We should demand better salaries and working conditions, but we may not wreck the economy.”

Zuma told the house that the task of leadership required “that we all draw the line between anarchy and constructive engagement”.

He reminded traditional leaders that he had once been a trade unionist.

“Going for a strike took a lot of debate, because we understood the consequences. It was not something where, one day, you wake up angry and call a strike.”

What was happening gave an impression that the understanding of trade unionism among workers was “one-sided”, or very narrow.

He said trade unionism was about “how do you protect your members, how do you make sure they continue working”, he said.

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