03 September 2010

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke's Blog: South African Public Sector Strike: The Beginning of the End?

I didn't notice the public servants' stike much, perhaps because I don't get out a lot, especially since my car wouldn't start for a few weeks and I had to save up for a new battery. So it's just the snippets I've caught on the news that have made me aware of it. But blogs now provide an alternative to the mainstream media, and I think some of my blogging friends hav said things worth sharing.

I think Tinyiko Maluleke, a missiologist at the University of South Africa, has it right when he says: Tinyiko Sam Maluleke's Blog: South African Public Sector Strike: The Beginning of the End?:
These developments are revealing. The unions are on the back-foot. They have been outmaneuvered, firmly rebuffed and roundly rebuked. Sensing that it will be hard for the unions to sustain this strike for two more weeks without losing public support and the morale of their members, government has mischieviously made an offer that is no great improvement on the previous offer. Of course government does not have the money. We all know about the budget deficit. Of course 7.5 percent is above the current inflation rate. But 7.5 percent of what? The widespread perceptions of a wasteful government which is tolerant of corruption will not win much sympathy for the government position.

But there are some things that make one lose sympathy for the strikers' cause too. As Jenny Hillebrand, a Methodist seminary student in Pietermaritzburg puts it: Carpenter's Shoes: Caution:
The seminarians spent the afternoon at the hospital again today. When I arrived I was waved away from the gate by the seminary president who was on his cell phone to union leaders. The striking workers had warned him that if we went in to the hospital they would call a crowd who would make it difficult for us to get out again. He negotiated, and as far as I understand, it was agreed that we could go in for two hours, we were to clean the wards, but not care for patients and one of the union members would come with us. There were a handful of policemen and a handful of strikers.

In the end we went in and out quite uneventfully. I know that the strikers want more money, but I can't see the justice in allowing helpless people to suffer as a tool to get their own way.

I have an ambivalent feeling about this. I feel sorry for neglected patients in hospitals, and feel that it is irresponsible to neglect them. At the same time, I wouldn't want to be a scab.

Cori quotes from another source: Cori's Blog: South Africa: Hopeful:
Yes, the strikes are about money, but there's something deeper going on - something at the relational level. The mere occurence of a strike, it could be argued, bears evidence of relational breakdown. Then there are relational implications in the huge earnings differentials between top and bottom public service officials - it says something about how people are valued. Intimidation and violence only occur where relational capacity is already damaged, and they certainly effect little that is relationally redemptive. It might not be enough to address the money issues without addressing the relational issues. Justice is a complex matter, but at its heart, justice has to be relational.

and goes on to say:

I thought this an important slant on the situation and it leads me to wonder what I can do to restore relationship with my fellow South Africans. On a really small scale, it felt important to me that when a few hundred teachers sang and danced their way through The Junction (a relatively upmarket shopping center in Pretoria North) I stood by and listened to what they were saying and read their signs. It felt important to listen and hear and take in. It felt important that I could exchange a few words with some of these teachers and show them that I cared about what they had to say. It sounds really insignificant but it feels important to me that we think about our relationship with others who feel unjustly treated. By being open to hear them, we may be taking a small step towards redemptive relationship.

And lurking behind all this is what is going on to the north of us, in Zimbabwe. Tinyiko Maluleke mentions the strains in the tripartite alliance between the ANC, Cosatu and the Communist Party. In Zimbabwe the relationship between the government and the trade unions lies shattered, and all Thabo's horses and all Thabo's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again. Is the same thing happening here? When it happened in Zim, millions of refugees came here. If it happens here, where will they, and we, go?

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