Page last updated at 17:53 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 18:53 UK

S Africa unions stage mass strike


Protesters and police at a strike rally in Durban

South African trade unions have held a one-day strike, which has caused widespread disruption and brought much of the economy to a standstill.

The public transport network was severely disrupted, with a knock-on effect on schools, mines and carmakers.

Some of the country's biggest mining companies say they have been badly hit.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) sought to mobilise its two million members to protest against the high cost of living.

Public transport was affected across the country, unions said, with long queues forming for buses and taxis in Johannesburg. Many workers and students stayed at home as a result of the disruption.

Cosatu members marching in Durban, 9 July 2008
The union movement has significant political influence in South Africa

Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside Pretoria's city hall, waving sticks and singing, says the BBC's Jonah Fisher, in the South African capital.

Though the march was meant to focus on the cost of electricity, the banners and chants show that for most, this is a chance for the poor to vent their anger at steep rises in the cost of food and fuel, our correspondent says.

"Food is at a higher price than petrol. Everything is high. We cannot live life like this. We are sick and tired... The government must make a plan," one woman said.

"I've got a house, but what about the people who are staying on the street? People are dying, especially in the wintertime," a man said.

Similar rallies were held at 17 other locations across South Africa. All nine provinces were involved in the strike.

Patrick Craven, of Cosatu, told the BBC that the strike was over rising costs across the board.

"It has to be seen in the context of all the other increases in prices which clearly make the electricity tariff that much more difficult to bear, particularly the food price increases, the fuel price going up and the rise in interest rates," he said.

Mining stoppages

There is particular concern about job cuts in the mining sector, where output and earnings have been slashed.

Mining company Anglogold Ashanti said no underground work took place at the firm's mines.

Anglo Platinum - the world's top producer of the precious metal - said some of its mines and a smelter had been affected, Reuters news agency reported.

Cosatu, an ally of the governing African National Congress (ANC), said the strike would be a warning to employers who may want to sack workers because of a downturn in profits due to a power supply crisis.

A five-day power cut in January and the rationing of electricity to mines cut output and earnings.

As the working people in this country, we are not going to be taking on the burden when it comes to financing power
Lesiba Seshoka
National Union of Mineworkers

"We hope to also send a strong message to the government that, as the working people in this country, we are not going to be taking on the burden when it comes to financing power," National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He also said the union hoped that South Africa's government would punish companies that fix prices by giving them "very serious fines".

Cosatu has urged the government to subsidise essential commodities and demands higher wages for workers.

With President Thabo Mbeki due to leave office next year, South Africa's workers are determined to put their concerns at the heart of the next government, our correspondent says.

Another strike is planned for next month.

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