Get Adobe Flash player

Daily Archives: August 7, 2008

SAfrican workers set for national strike as price hikes take toll

by Justine Gerardy*

South African unions planned to bring the country to a halt yesterday in a nationwide strike against rising electricity costs amid hard times for the country's once strong economy.
Nearly two million members of 21 trade unions in the private and public sectors had been mobilised to march in major cities countrywide against a 27.5 percent increase in power costs, the COSATU trade union federation said.
"Every aspect of the economy will be affected," said Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of COSATU, a junior partner in President Thabo Mbeki's governing coalition.
"If we were to judge by provincial action (in July), we have been able to close down every city in the country. We hope that will be repeated."
The strike follows smaller regional protests in the weeks leading up to yesterday's action after a recent move by energy giant Eskom to raise electricity prices for the second time since December, amounting to an average hike of 27.5 percent.
It also comes as prices have risen sharply for many basic goods, mirroring trends that have occurred both regionally and across the world.
Food prices in South Africa increased by 16.8 percent, interest rates by 20 percent and fuel prices by 35.6 percent from May 2007 to May 2008, according to the Bureau of Market Research at the University of South Africa.
During the same period, earnings per capita had risen by only 12 percent, according to the data.
The country's growth in the first quarter measured 2.1 percent on a 12-month basis, down sharply from 5.3 percent in the last quarter of 2007, government statistics show.
An electricity crisis earlier this year brought the country's key mining industry to a halt, with shortages leading to severe blackouts.
The National Union of Mineworkers, the largest of COSATU's affiliates with 320,000 members, was also to participate in the strike and expected the mining industry to come to a standstill.
"We're expecting a complete shutdown," said spokesman Lesiba Seshoka.
Economists, while acknowledging the country's worsening economic situation, cast doubt on what effect the strike could have.
"These strikes will probably do more damage than good because all we do is send a message that we're a strike-prone country and it's not good for the image of South Africa," said Dawie Roodt of the Efficient Group financial services firm.
But that argument may not sway many South African workers who have seen their lifestyles impacted by rising costs.
Recent research showed that only two of every 10 COSATU members believed the government was doing well in addressing the electricity crisis.
Ninety-four percent said food increases were not being handled well, and only one in 10 felt petrol price increases were being effectively dealt with, according to the figures released last month by the Ipsos Markinor research firm.
Professor Carel van Aardt of the Bureau of Market Research said reasons for the strike were understandable, but mass action was not the best solution.
"I just believe the costs far outweigh the benefits," he said of the strike.
"On the other hand, if we ignore the plight of the poor people we're going to do it at our peril because this is a cry from the working and poor classes to do something dramatic."


Russian writer Solzhenitsyn laid to rest in Moscow


by Conor Humphries*

Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn was laid to rest in Moscow's historic Donskoy Monastery yesterday after an emotional service attended by President Dmitry Medvedev.
The iconic writer, who spent eight years in the Gulag prison camps before devoting his life to documenting the horrors of Soviet rule, was buried in the shadow of a chapel in a ceremony broadcast live on national television.
Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure at his Moscow home on Sunday at the age of 89, prompting a stream of condolence messages from Russian and world leaders for a man credited with helping undermine Soviet power.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral. Solzhenitsyn's widow, Natalya, wearing a black veil, threw a handful of earth onto the coffin as Orthodox priests in white robes stood by and tearful mourners crossed themselves.
A plain wooden Orthodox cross 1.5 metres high and engraved with the writer's name, lay nearby.
Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 and is best known for his massive study of the labour camps, "The Gulag Archipelago," as well as novels like "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and "The First Circle."
He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 after the authorities found a manuscript of "The Gulag Archipelago." The Soviet Union's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev eventually restored his citizenship in 1990.
After returning to Russia from the United States in 1994 on an emotional train journey across Siberia, the author eventually retired into seclusion to focus on his writing and was rarely seen during his final years.
"His ideas remain alive…. He is the father or the brother of all political prisoners," Vitold Abankin, a poet who was a political prisoner for 12 years during the Soviet era, said during the funeral.
Earlier President Medvedev laid a bunch of red roses by the writer's feet, while others leaned to kiss a strip of paper bearing religious imagery that covered Solzhenitsyn's forehead.
Large wreaths lined the steps to the church, including one from human rights group Memorial, which campaigns for former prisoners of the Soviet labour camps to receive pensions and for KGB archives to be opened up.
"We will read and listen to him for a long time to come. Every one of his words is steeped in his own blood," said Snezhana Krylova, a middle-aged teacher clutching a bouquet of yellow roses on her way to the church.
"We have to explain this to young people," she added.
Solzhenitsyn selected the burial spot five years ago in a cemetery where many other leading anti-Soviet figures have been buried and he received special permission for it from Patriarch Alexy II, a church official said.
Before entering the church, Moscow's mayor Yury Luzhkov, who greeted Solzhenitsyn upon the writer's emotional return from exile in 1994, said: "He was one of our strongest personalities, a unique person."