Public-sector workers in South Africa have gone on indefinite strike with thousands holding marches through cities demanding a 12% pay rise.
Workers refuse to return to work until a solution is found
Police fired rubber bullets at striking health workers who were preventing patients entering a Cape Town hospital.
A BBC correspondent in Johannesburg says children were seen wandering back home after finding schools closed.
Efforts by the government to avert the strike failed this week after the unions rejected a 6% offer.
South Africa's inflation rate has risen to 5.5%.
Analysts say it is one of the biggest strikes in the history of South Africa and workers say they will only return to work once a resolution is found.
The BBC's Mpho Lakaje in Johannesburg says the usually traffic-filled streets of the city were empty of cars.
Thousands of workers chanting liberation songs marched through the city's central business district where the mood was electrifying, he says.
"The lord looked at my work and was pleased and he looked at looked at my salary and cried. What a shame - 12 please!" one placard in Johannesburg read.
Security has been tight in the city where many schools closed, and hospitals and public transport services have been disrupted
Some 700,000 workers across the country were called out.
The unions, which do not always see eye to eye, have united to make their point, our correspondent says.
The strike seems to have been observed in all nine of South Africa's provinces, he says.
"Reports so far indicate a very, very good turnout," the spokesman Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Patrick Craven agreed, Reuters news agency reports.
"As a teacher I'm earning peanuts," a 40-year-old teacher from Dr B W Vilakazi High School in Soweto told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
"I teach many students but soon after they complete their studies, they earn way more than I do."
In recent years doctors have also been vocal about poor conditions.
South Africa has seen many qualified health professionals leaving the country for greener pastures abroad.