After high inflation last year, many public service workers saw their purchasing power plummet, and want bigger salaries to match increases in prices. Unemployment stands at more than 23 per cent, according to official figures.
Unions representing more than 150,000 municipal workers called the strike, as thousands marched through Johannesburg, Cape Town and other major cities with 25 arrests reported in Polokwane in the north.
Dale Forbes, negotiator for the South African Municipal Workers Union, told RFI negotiations had been ongoing since May. He said the strike would continue until workers were happy with the settlement.
"The demand that we have is a 15 percent wage increase. This is based on the fact that workers suffered a negative increase in the last year and we are trying to regain some of those losses during the course of the strike," he said.
In Johannesburg, some 10,000 workers in red shirts belonging to the South African Municipal Workers Union marched through the city and chanted "bring my money," before delivering a memorandum to the mayor's office.
The ANC has condemned the unruly strikers, saying "no form of disorder or violence can resolve any wage dispute other than through negotiating forums like bargaining chambers".