May Day march in South Africa (261078)
Credit: Contributed

(GIN)—While teachers in the U.S. are rising up against slashed budgets and stagnant wages, workers across Africa are refusing to work for sub-par wages, long hours and the erosion of labor rights.

In South Africa, a nationwide strike was sparked when workers rejected a new minimum wage put forward by President Cyril Ramaphosa that was judged insufficient. Trade unions representing striking bus drivers have been meeting to discuss a way forward after negotiations reached a deadlock last week.

“The strike is on,” declared Puseletso Molise of the South African Federation of Trade Unions. “We have mobilized forces, the taxi industry will join the strike, the truck drivers will park trucks on the roads and leave them there, mineworkers will refuse to work, the general public will support the strike,” he said.

The strike has affected tens of thousands of commuters.

April 18, bus drivers went on strike, demanding a 9.5 percent increase for the first year, down from an initial demand for 15 percent. “But our employers are stuck on 8 percent, refusing to give us that 1 percent to meet our 9 percent demand,” the union official said.

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union representative Zanele Sabela told the news service eNCA Monday that the strike is continuing. “The ministers have urged us to come up with a resolution, but the employers have given us an ultimatum to accept the offer on the table‚” Sabela said.

“The problem with the offer is that it is only for 11 months. The employers are robbing workers of one month’s salary increase.”

Monday, South African Municipal Workers responsible for waste removal and collection marched across the capital city, accusing the City of Tshwane of exposing them of unsafe working conditions and diseases.

Also this week, violent overnight protests broke out in KwaZulu Natal at a toll plaza. Some 35 trucks were damaged and looted in a protest against the employment of foreign nationals.

Lastly, a one-day national strike was called by the South African Federation of Trade Unions, a group of 30 bodies representing approximately 800,000 workers that says the hourly minimum wage of 20 rand ($1.61) amounts to “slave labor.” The group, formed after a breakaway from the ruling party-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions, also wants the government to do more to address poverty and create jobs and scrap proposals to make it more difficult to strike.

Meanwhile, strikes are underway in Benin, Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria.


(GIN)—Ending four years in political exile, Dr. Joyce Banda, once demeaned as a mere “fritter seller,” returned this week in full form, risking possible arrest as she greeted crowds of joyous supporters at the Blantyre airport and in her hometown.

The second woman to lead an African country and the first woman president in Malawi, Banda assured her party faithful that she played no role in the widespread corruption scandal uncovered during her brief administration. “I am not afraid,” she said defiantly. “If they want they can come and arrest me because I have not done any wrong.”

During her two years as president, from 2012 to 2014, Banda frequently came under attack in the mostly conservative, male-dominated nation. A senior ruling party official declared that Malawi was “not ready for a female president,” while First Lady Callista Mutharika said Banda was fooling herself that she was a serious politician.

“She will never be president, how can a mandasi [fritter] seller be president?” Mutharika was reported to say.

Banda moved abroad after local auditors, digging through ministerial accounts, reported finding the tampering of government budgets to the tune of millions of dollars. It was dubbed “Cashgate” for the huge sums discovered in the homes and cars of civil servants and businesspeople. Although she was not personally implicated in Cashgate, the tempo of the graft reportedly increased during Banda’s administration.

More than $32 million was misappropriated within just six months in 2013, it was reported. But more recent estimates suggest that more than $280 million might have been stolen since 2009.

In the ensuing trials, an accountant with the Ministry of Tourism, himself indicted in the affair, claimed Banda had received some of the stolen loot to distribute among voters.

Meanwhile, dissatisfied Malawians took to the streets over the weekend in the first nationwide anti-government demonstration in decades. Dressed in red, protestors chanted “Peter Must Resign!” referring to President Peter Mutharika, who is accused of corruption and poor governance. The Mutharikas, Peter and his father Bingu wa Mutharika, led the country for more than a decade.

A Pastoral Letter signed by leaders of all eight Catholic dioceses in the country agreed that Malawi needs a change.

Although dismissed as a fritter seller at home, Banda was voted one of the most powerful women in the world and a champion for the rights of women, children, the disabled and other marginalized groups by Forbes magazine.

She also received the Hunger Project Africa Prize for the Sustainable End of Hunger, shared with Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano in 1997.