South Africa’s Zuma Tells Ministers To End Strike

Workers were angry that the president has been out of the country during the strike.

South Africa’s president has instructed ministers to return to the negotiating table to end a public sector strike that is about to enter its third week.

Jacob Zuma’s decision comes as more workers in the water and tyre-making industries are expected to join.

The strike over pay has closed schools and left hospitals relying on army medics to keep functioning.

The main trade union federation has threatened a one-day general strike on Thursday, if its demands are not met.

About one million civil servants are already on strike but their union Cosatu’s total affiliated membership is double that.

Mr Zuma’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the government was “confident” it could bring the strike to an end within a few days.

“We are concerned about the fact that indeed the situation has… deteriorated and therefore we need to end the strike as soon as possible and bring everything else to stability,” he said.

“Those who negotiate on behalf of government will go with that mandate, [and] make sure that indeed the strike comes to an end.”

Workers want an 8.6% pay rise, and are angry the government offered 7%.

Zuma under attack

The government has said it cannot afford to deliver wage increases that amount to twice the rate of inflation.

But the BBC’s Karen Allen in Johannesburg says Mr Zuma’s call to revive talks is driven by politics as much as economics.

He has been stung by criticism from striking workers that he has been on a trade mission to China while nurses, teachers and other civil servants have been on the streets demanding more pay.

Talks to avoid a strike are due to resume on Monday evening.

And although ministers insist the country cannot afford more than the offer on the table, President Zuma needs to restore relations with the unions, our correspondent says.

They are his key power base and he will want them on side ahead of a major ruling party African National Congress policy conference in three weeks’ time.