Mthethwa warns against strike, protest violence

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa warned on Wednesday that violence in strikes and protests will be punished, as tensions flared in a protesting township and at a truck driver stayaway over wages.

Four taxi passengers were, meanwhile, seriously hurt in Johannesburg on Wednesday when a trucker fleeing an attack by strikers crashed his vehicle into theirs, media reported.

Other trucks were burned, stoned and looted as the wage strike entered a third day with a march through central Johannesburg.

Security forces, meanwhile, patrolled the destitute township of Wesselton, about 200km east of Johannesburg, where a man was found dead this week after clashes between police and protesters complaining about poor government services.

“Police have a mandate to protect law-abiding citizens, and those who find themselves on the wrong side — we shall have no leniency on them,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement.

The truck drivers had the right to strike but not to “violent, barbaric and intolerant behaviour”, he said.

Mthethwa also warned against violence in Wesselton, outside the town of Ermelo, where police have arrested 113 people and battled to end a service delivery protest that started on Monday.

Businesses closed

Police fired rubber bullets as protesters set alight tyres in Wesselton on Wednesday in a third day of demonstrations over weak government service delivery.

Riot police deployed into the streets to disperse protesters who also dragged the charred remains of earlier barricades back into the road.

Businesses were closed and schoolchildren had stayed at home amid fears that the streets could again explode violence after Tuesday’s clashes, when police opened fire with rubber and live bullets.

A man was found dead but authorities said it was not yet clear what had killed him.

Police said they fired rubber bullets Tuesday at protesters who trashed and looted foreign-owned shops, and shot live ammunition into walls as a warning after some demonstrators opened fire at the security forces.

“They don’t care if you’re participating or just watching, they shoot everybody,” resident Sbusiso Nkosi (21) said Wednesday as he crouched behind a tin-roof shack after running from riot police firing rubber bullets and carrying assault rifles.

Nkosi, an unemployed welder, told Agence France-Presse residents were angry over the government’s failure to deliver services like electricity and water, and the lack of jobs in the township.

“Just like the truck drivers’ strike, we noted disturbing incidents of looting of shops and assaults and we once again want to reiterate that government shall act without fear or favour to protect law-abiding incidents,” Mthethwa said, referring to Wesselton.

National police commissioner Bheki Cele was visit the township on Wednesday.

‘Solidarity support’

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday said it will “mobilise solidarity support” — including marches and pickets — for the striking road freight sector should the sector’s wage demands not be met.

“Cosatu demands that the employers bring an improved offer to the table as quickly as possible so that a settlement can be negotiated. But should no acceptable offer materialise, the federation will mobilise solidarity support for the striking workers,” said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven in a statement.

Craven said this support included marches, pickets and protests. A solidarity strike, however, would be the last resort.

“We hope that it won’t come to that [solidarity strike]; it will be the last option,” he said.

Cosatu expressed its support for its affiliate in the sector, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu).

Craven called upon workers to “conduct their struggle in a peaceful, lawful and disciplined manner”.

Four unions involved in the strike — the Transport and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa, the Professional Transport Workers’ Union, Satawu and the Motor Transport Workers’ Union — are demanding a 20% increase allocated over a two-year period, for example 10% in 2011 and 10% in 2012.

The Road Freight Employers’ Association was offering an increase of 7,5% across the board for 2011 and a further 7,5% increase for 2012.

Talks between the union and the employers were continuing on Wednesday. — AFP, Sapa

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