President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged that workers in South Africa are “suffering” – this after he failed to address a May Day rally organised by ANC alliance partner COSATU over the weekend.
Workers who had assembled at the Royal Bofakeng Stadium in Rustenburg, North West, took the opportunity to voice their grievances, including a pay dispute at Sibanye-Stillwater mining company and the third leg of the 2018 public servants wage agreement which the government reneged on.
Although Ramaphosa managed to calm a section of the workers, another group that came to the main stage demanded that he should leave. He was whisked away shortly afterwards without delivering his prepared speech.
‘We must listen’
Writing in his weekly letter to the nation on Tuesday (3 May), the President acknowledged that the workers’ protest “demonstrated a broader level of discontent.”
“It reflects a weakening of trust in their union and Federation as well as political leadership, including public institutions,” he wrote.
“These workers wanted to be heard. They wanted their union leaders and government to appreciate their concerns and understand the challenges they face. In raising their voices, these workers were upholding a tradition of militance that has been part of the labour movement in this country for decades.
“As political and union leaders, we have all heard the workers and understand their frustration. The workers have spoken. We must listen. And, together, we must act.”
Ramaphosa touted partnerships between the government, labour and business as a way of resolving workers’ challenges. These social partners have worked together before to formulate a response to the 2008 global financial crisis, craft the 2020 Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan and agree on a national minimum wage in 2019, he added.
“The wage grievances of the workers in Rustenburg deserve the attention of all stakeholders, employers and labour so that a fair and sustainable settlement can be reached. As government, we are committed to play our part,” the President wrote.
“But the workers at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium also made plain what nearly every South African knows: the working class and the poor of our country are suffering.”
Ramaphosa said the COVID-19 pandemic caused the loss of two million jobs, adding that this was “a massive blow to our country, from which it will take many years to recover.” In response, the government launched measures to address the crisis, including the Presidential Employment Stimulus and the R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant.
“We are undertaking fundamental economic reforms that will improve the competitiveness and economic contribution of the energy, water, telecommunications and transport industries. These reforms, together with increased investment in infrastructure, will enable faster economic growth and employment creation,” he added.
“While much is happening, there is still much more that needs to be done to unleash the potential of our economy and provide the employment opportunities that our people need.”