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Monday, July 27, 2009

Clashes as South Africans strike

Police fired rubber bullets at protesters in Polokwane while Johannesburg saw big demonstrations

Striking South African municipal workers have emptied piles of rubbish onto the streets during a march to demand a wage increase.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Limpopo Province, who police said had become "disorderly".

The ruling ANC has reportedly condemned the workers' behaviour. Recent strikes and unrest are seen as the major challenges for President Jacob Zuma.

About 150,000 workers have stopped work demanding a 15% pay rise.

Workers say they are unable to make a living from their current wages because of high food prices.

President Zuma has called for understanding from workers, but the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Johannesburg says crowd-pleasing promises he made during his election campaign are proving hard to keep.

Our correspondent says a pledge to create 500,000 new jobs has already been retracted.

In recent weeks, there have been violent protests over the lack of housing, water and electricity in the poorest townships.

Strike season

Dale Forbes, from the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), said most members had heeded the strike call.

He said he was confident the public was backing the strike.

Worker march in central Johannesburg
Striking workers are demanding a 15% wage increase

"They want to see dramatic improvements in service delivery - which must start with improvements in the conditions of the workers," he said.

Services such as Johannesburg's Metro Bus service are not operational.

The Metro Police who are in charge of traffic policing in the country's major cities are also taking part in the strike.

Members of Samwu and other unions walked out after being denied a 15% wage increase. They rejected an offer of 11.5%.

The country has already faced a major strike by construction workers, which threatened stadiums being built for next year's football World Cup.

That strike was ended earlier this month after workers and employers agreed a 12% pay rise.

Mr Zuma took power in May after an election campaign in which he pledged to ease poverty.

He was supported by the main union federation, Cosatu, and the South African Communist Party which wanted a change in the previous administration's economic policies, which they said were too pro-business.

However, South Africa has since entered its first recession in 17 years, making it more difficult for Mr Zuma to increase state spending.


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