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New protests in South Africa as thousands strike

South Africa's government faced more violent protests on Tuesday as police fired rubber bullets on marchers as a strike by tens of thousands of municipal workers entered a second day.

world Updated: Jul 28, 2009 20:27 IST

South Africa's government faced more violent protests on Tuesday as police fired rubber bullets on marchers as a strike by tens of thousands of municipal workers entered a second day.

Police broke up an angry demonstration in a Johannesburg suburb using rubber bullets after 200 residents blocked off streets in a protest over lack of service delivery by the municipality.

Demonstrators stoned a police cordon in the Tholoza suburb after finding the municipality, whose staff was taking part in a nationwide local government workers strike, closed.

Police Captain Godfrey Maditsi said the protest "was causing havoc" and said police fired the rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Thokoza has been a hotspot of rioting as a series of service delivery protests have swept South Africa in recent weeks.
Rising discontent over wages and slack service delivery have increased pressure on the new government of President Jacob Zuma in the midst of a recession.

In downtown Johannebsurg, South African Municipal Workers (SAMWU) union president Petrus Mashishi appealed for calm at a rally attended by around 1,000 strikers, after Monday saw marches deteriorate into chaos around the country.

"We must must sure our actions are not going to taint the image of this organisation," he said.

Nearly 30 strikers were arrested Monday as protesters looted shops, harassed passers-by and dumped garbage in the streets, with at least 12 injured as police fired rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.

Buses, clinics, traffic offices and city parks and libraries were shut down by the strike as more than 150,000 government workers downed tools, demanding higher pay after inflation last year soared to a high of 13.7 per cent.
Inflation has since eased to 8.0 per cent, but workers say they are still falling behind.

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said in a statement Tuesday that bad behaviour by strikers was tarnishing the genuine grievances they might have and was undermining their right to strike.

"The supposedly peaceful wage increment demonstrations deteriorated into chaos as scores of marchers were seen causing havoc -- looting, harassing street vendors and spilling refuse on the streets in most of the country's major cities yesterday," he said in a statement.

Employers are offering an increase of 13 per cent, and workers will continue to strike Wednesday while the unions weigh the offer.

"If they to call off the strike then that will happen but if the members reject the offer then we are going to the bargaining council on Thursday to negotiate on top of the 13 per cent," Mashishi told AFP.

Wearing red and black SAMWU T-shirts strikers sang struggle songs and chanted "pay us more" as they marched peacefully under a heavy police presence in Johannesburg.

"Although I will be losing money by being here, I am willing to strike until the employer meets our demands. It will be worth it in the end," said Nozipho Ndlela, an administrator at Johannesburg municipality.

The latest stoppages comes after the country was hit by violent protests last week over lax public services from local government.

Zuma led the ruling African National Congress to a thumping victory in April elections, promising to tackle enduring poverty 15 years after the end of apartheid.

About 43 per cent of South Africans live on less than two dollars a day.

South Africa often sees strikes during the southern hemisphere winter, as many contracts come up for renewal mid-year. Doctors and construction workers at 2010 World Cup stadiums have already staged strikes over the last two months.