Police ready as support for mass action swells
Cape Town - With support growing, the Congress of South African trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Tuesday that it expects up to 100 000 people to take part in country-wide protests against e-tolling and labour broking.
The mass action includes 34 marches around the country, and police say they are prepared for any eventuality.
Various other unions, civil society organisations and political parties have thrown their weight behind Cosatu, thereby swelling the numbers even more.
In Cape Town, a planned march on Parliament across the city centre would likely attract 30 000 people, according to Cosatu Western Cape general secretary Tony Ehrenreich.
About 20 000 of these would be Cosatu members. A further 10 000 from civil society organisations and unions would also join in.
"It will be one of the biggest strikes that has happened in the Western Cape for a long, long time," he said.
Western Cape police's Captain Frederick van Wyk told News24 that there will be "sufficient police to combat crime".
Strikers will gather at the Keizersgracht from 10:00. At 11:00 they will proceed down Darling Street, stopping at City Hall to hand over a memorandum to Transnet and the Cape Chamber of Business, the City said in a statement.
The group will continue down Darling Street, turn left into Adderley Street, left into Spin Street, then into Plein Street and to Parliament, where they will hand over a memorandum to the labour minister
Temporary road closures will be put in place to accommodate the strikers' route.
In Gauteng the march will start at Library Gardens in the Johannesburg CBD and proceed to the premier's office and the Chamber of Mines before ending at the department of transport and roads.
Marchers are expected to gather at Beyers Naudé Square in the city centre at 09:00, from where they will march along routes leading in and out of Johannesburg’s Park Station, and Farady and Westgate railway stations.
Motorists using De Villiers, Harrison, Jeppe, and Simmonds streets will be affected.
The march will be monitored by the police’s crowd control unit, and more focus will be placed on train stations and private vehicle routes leading to the city centre, Sapa reported.
Elsewhere, in Limpopo, police said they were ready to ensure marches in the province were conducted peacefully.
Lieutenant Colonel Mohale Ramatseba said police helicopters, dog units, public order police and crime prevention teams would be deployed in Polokwane and throughout the province.
The police would work with march organisers to ensure the protest went off without incident.
Limited transport disruptions
Public transport services are expected to be relatively unaffected by the strike and marches.
"Metrorail has restructured the train service in such a way that only the off peak service will be affected because of the long waiting service intervals," the Passenger Rail Agency of SA spokesperson Tony Games said in a statement.
Provincial manager Tembela Kulu said contingency plans were in place to limit service disruptions, and all staff were expected to report for work
"We appeal to our commuters for their patience during this time and we will keep them informed of the developments throughout the day," said Kulu.
The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) said taxi services would run as normal because it had decided not to participate in the strike.
"Santaco Gauteng... held a meeting yesterday [on Monday] where the planned e-toll strike matter was raised [and we] agreed there was no basis for the taxi industry to form part of the strike," said deputy chairperson Bafana Magagula.
Chance to unite
Meanwhile, Trade union Solidarity appealed to those who were unable to take part in the planned marches to protest against e-tolling in other ways.
As it was not part of Cosatu's protest application at Nedlac, its members will not be able to participate in a protected strike.
"The protest against e-tolling could be an opportunity for South Africans to unite to everyone's benefit", the union said in a statement.
Solidarity deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann encouraged motorists to hoot every time they drove through a highway tollgate between Wednesday and Friday.
He said the public could also demonstrate dissatisfaction by adding #toet before protest messages on social media.
Hermann asked people to SMS the word "toot" to 34388 to make donations to a planned legal challenge against e-tolling by AfriForum.
Solidarity maintained though that it "does not support the strike with reference to the issue of labour brokers".
"The issues of e-tolling and labour brokers must be kept separate," it said.
Democratic Alliance Leader Helen Zille said her party also did not support Cosatu's call to ban labour brokers, and as for e-tolling, the matter would be challenged in court.
Cosatu had earlier retracted its invitation to the DA to participate in Wednesday's marches.
The union's spokesperson said members of all parties were welcome to join, but "we never invited any party leaders".
Zille also said her party was opposed to the impact the protest could have on schooling, which seemed to be in conflict with Cosatu.
Teachers are workers too
On Monday, the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas) said teachers should not let the national strike action interfere with children’s education
"Children should not become the victims of adults' problems," said Fedsas deputy CEO Jaco Deacon.
Teachers and parents should see to it that their involvement in the Cosatu protest action did not interfere with children’s education.
The school governing body called on all teachers to fulfill their professional obligation to school children.
Despite this, Cosatu expected teachers to join the protest.
At a briefing on Sunday, Ehrenreich told journalists "there won't be a lot of education happening on the day of the strike".
This sentiment was echoed by the organisation's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi
"Teachers are workers too and they have the same rights as all other workers."
He said plans would have to be put in place to make up for the learning hours which would be lost on Wednesday.
Vavi, who is the main speaker at the Johannesburg march, said on Tuesday that if the mass action failed to have the desired effect on the tolling situation, the organisation has more "creative ways" to make the system an epic failure.
He told reporters in Pretoria if government went ahead with e-tolling on Gauteng freeways after Wednesday's strike, Cosatu would organise more strikes.
"Particularly on April 28... we are more likely to think about lots of creative ways which we have talked about which will make that whole [e-tolling] system unworkable... completely unworkable."
He said government would have to choose between the economy losing billions in the e-tolling battle or choose to negotiate with the organisation instead.
"Government has R300bn, it can't tell us that it can't get just R20bn from that R300bn to pay for public roads," he said.
Vavi said Wednesday's strike action is a sign that Cosatu is still willing to negotiate with government regarding the two issues.
"We are going to be listening very carefully in terms of what government is going to be saying... we are forcing government back to the negotiating table we are saying we remain open to talks, even at this moment," he said.
Everybody and all organisations are welcome to participate in the strike except for those working in essential services.
This included suspended ANCYL president Julius Malema, who according to Vavi was in solidarity with the action and would march with protesters.
Vavi said Cosatu respected the ANC disciplinary committee's decision to expel Malema, but the firebrand leader was still the league's representative as he was appealing his expulsion from the party.
He did, however, say that Malema's plans to take part in the protest put Cosatu in a "tight corner".