South African workers demanding higher wages protest nationwide in strike's 2nd week

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Thousands of civil servants took to the streets across South Africa on Thursday in a peaceful mass demonstration for higher wages, while police management tried to bar officers from joining the protests.

The show of strength organized by unions came as a nationwide strike that has hurt hospitals and schools entered its second week. No resolution was in sight, and there were signs more workers would soon be striking.

The police union has said that its members would start striking Saturday, raising concerns in a country with one of the world's highest rates of violent crime in the world — some 50 murders a day.

Police also have used water cannon and rubber bullets to control sporadic violence during the strike.

Police management obtained a court order early Thursday barring police from striking, and said officers who joined the protests could be fired.

Norman Mampane, spokesman for the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, says union lawyers will challenge the court order.

The powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions said member unions who were not already striking were making plans to stop work in a week in solidarity with the civil servants.

Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU's general secretary, said the federation had not wanted a strike and had recommended civil servants accept the government's offer of a 7 percent wage increase plus 700 rand ($96) for housing. The workers, though, are holding out for an 8.6 percent hike and a 1,000 rand ($137) housing allowance.

"We have to be loyal to our numbers," Vavi told reporters Thursday. "If they say this deal is not good enough, we have to march with them."

Monica Venter, an official with the Public Service Association union, said as she joined thousands of marchers in downtown Johannesburg:

"We will go on until we get a better offer from the employer, an improved offer from the employer on the table."

Marchers also were moving peacefully through the streets of Cape Town and other cities.

Many South Africans have been aghast that the sick and frail are suffering because of the strike.

Answering a government call for volunteers, army medics and ordinary South Africans have served meals to patients, changed babies' diapers and helped retired nurses at public hospitals dispense medicine. Private hospitals, which are not affected by the strike, are also taking some of the sickest patients.

It remains unclear how long the strike might last. A public service strike in 2007 lasted a month.

South Africa has been hit hard by the global recession, losing 900,000 jobs last year on top of already high unemployment. The government has said it wants to devote funds to creating new jobs, not just raising the salaries of those already working.


Associated Press writers Donna Bryson in Johannesburg and Thandisizwe Mgudlwa in Cape Town contributed to this report.