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Buthelezi 'ashamed of countrymen'

2010-08-21 09:01

Johannesburg - IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi is "deeply ashamed" of the striking public servants prepared to endanger lives and punish schoolchildren, he said on Friday.

"The latest public sector strike has shown us the worst in human nature," Buthelezi said in a statement at the end of the third day of the strike over wages.

"On Wednesday I stood before a joint sitting of Parliament to debate South Africa's hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup and declared that I am proud of my country. Today, just two days later, I find myself deeply ashamed of my countrymen".

He acknowledged workers' right to strike, and that they were struggling to make ends meet.

"But every man and woman of conscience must draw a line at what they will do to have their own needs met.

"And it seems that for many there is no line, or it extends far beyond the bounds of what is rational, moral or humane," he said.

Strikers accused of murder

Striking public servants shut down schools, blocked roads and barricaded hospitals in protests which have become increasingly violent. On Friday, Minister Aaron Motsoaledi accused striking healthcare workers of the "murder" of emergency patients.

The deaths of two underweight babies at the Natalspruit hospital were not a result of wage negotiations, but "intentional negligence" by the nurses into whose care they were entrusted, said Buthelezi.

"Once this strike has ended, how could anyone entrust another child into these nurses' care? They have not only gone against the nurses' pledge, but against every moral precept by which we live," he said.

People were concerned at pictures of empty classrooms and the punishment of children for grow-ups problems.

However, this paled in relation to the horror of learning that a hospital had turned away a man whose hand had been amputated, that a nurse was pulled from a theatre while an elderly man lay anaesthetised on the operating table, that soldiers had to be sent to help at hospitals, and that doctors had to hide women awaiting caesarean sections.

"I have the utmost respect for those nurses and teachers who have drawn the line at punishing children and endangering lives; who are continuing to work under very real pressures and threats from their colleagues," Buthelezi said.

Collective conscience

The nation faced a watershed moment.

"This is not only about each one's individual conscience, but our collective conscience as a nation.

"It is time to re-examine the limits, renegotiate the process and reconsider where the right to strike collides with the rights to life and security."

The constitution recognised that there were instances where rights had to be curtailed. "Are we erring on the side of liberty?" he asked.

The government has offered workers a seven percent increase and a R700 a month housing allowance. The have rejected this and are demanding an 8.6 percent increase and a R1000 a month housing allowance.

Strikes were a complex and thorny issue, said Buthelezi.

"But in my mind, when it comes to life and children, the grey areas quickly separate into black and white. Those who still see grey have shamed our nation."