South Africans Mobilize Against Rising Cost of Living, Unemployment and Inflation

South Africans Mobilize Against Rising Cost of Living, Unemployment and Inflation

Thousands of South Africans demonstrated this Wednesday, August 24, in Pretoria and Cape Town to protest against inflation, which has reached the highest level in the last 13 years, and against the increase in the cost of living, the recurring electricity cuts and the record number of unemployment. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic conditions of South Africans have not improved. More: they have been aggravated by the consequences of the war in Ukraine and by corruption.

It was the trade union center Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – a long-standing ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – that called the national strike of South African workers.

Its purpose is to put pressure on the government to give concrete answers to the problems of unemployment, growing poverty and the high cost of living in the country.

“The objective of today’s march is to send a very strong message to our government to stop the austerity measures,” a protester told the Reuters news agency on August 24.

“We can’t breathe,” said the general secretary of the Federation of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, who was also among the protesters.

In South Africa, strikes and worker-related unrest often affect sectors such as mining, but it is unusual for COSATU, the country’s largest union, to lead such a nationwide demonstration. His call for a general strike, which attracted attention in Pretoria and Cape Town, met with less reception in the country’s smaller cities.

“Stop taxing basic foods” was one of the many slogans carried by the protesters who marched through the center of Pretoria, the capital of the South African executive, towards the Union Buildings, buildings that house the offices of the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, founding member of COSATU. There, the protesters handed over a memorandum to the authorities. In Cape Town, the country’s legislative capital, protesters marched on Parliament.

All pointed to the serious alteration of the economic conditions of millions of people, especially among the most vulnerable classes, while some also denounced the frequent electricity cuts, caused by blackouts and the shortage of energy capacity of the state-owned provider Eskom, and which harm the companies.

“Our future is doomed”

Driven by supply chain disruptions following the economic recovery from the easing of restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as rising energy and food prices following the Ukraine war, inflation it exploded in countries around the world, but some states were better prepared than others to deal with it.

This was not the case in South Africa, where headline consumer price inflation reached an annual rate of 7.8% in July, according to the national statistics agency StatsSA, its highest level since 2009.

This has translated into rising costs for basic necessities, including food, electricity, fuel and medicine. In an attempt to rein in inflation, the central bank carried out its biggest interest rate hike in 20 years last month, on top of four previous hikes.

“This is a social battle,” said Mike Shingange, deputy director of the South African Trades Union Congress. Without action, “our future is doomed, the future of our youth is doomed. We must fight now,” he added.

According to a World Bank report, some 30.3 million South Africans live in poverty, while 13.8 million people suffer from food shortages. Bread and cereal prices rose 13.7% in July, meaning a loaf of white bread now costs the equivalent of $1.05, up from $0.91 a year ago, according to StatsSA.

“At least 14 million people are forced to skip a meal every day because they have nothing to put on their plate,” said Zwelinzima Vavi.

Another product affected by inflation is fuel, whose price has risen by 45.3%, its largest annual increase since 2009.

A government accused of privileging the elites and doing nothing against corruption

South Africa, the continent’s leading industrial power, has a population of almost 60 million inhabitants and the general increase in the cost of living has a direct impact on its citizens, whose unemployment rate is close to 3. 4%, and mainly affects women and young people.

For the moment, the government has not reacted to the strike. Former President Thabo Mbeki has criticized President Ramaphosa, saying the government has no plan to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Mbeki also accused Ramaphosa of not keeping his promises to fight corruption in South Africa.

Reports detailing anti-corruption investigations appear regularly in the country’s news. The latest was made public on Friday 29 April and shows how Eskom, the state-owned electricity company, was looted, leading to more and more power cuts, further complicating the daily lives of South Africans.

Unions also accuse the government of pandering to the elite and favoring business interests over those of the middle class.

The minister of the South African Presidency, Mondli Gungubele, who met with the protesters, said on Wednesday that the issues they raised should be addressed as a priority.

Reuters, AFP

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