South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cut short his appearance at the Commonwealth leaders’ summit in London after rising citizen anger at corruption and poor public service at home exploded into violence.
South African police fired rubber bullets at protestors while shops were looted, roads were blocked and vehicles set on fire. Some 23 people were arrested and one man reportedly died in the melee in Mahikeng, the capital of the North West Province.
The province has been seething with frustration over a lack of housing, health services and jobs. The provincial premier, Supra Mahumapelo, has been linked to such scandals as the payment of 30 million rand ($2 million US) to a company run by friends of former president Jacob Zuma before they did any work in two provinces.
At least a half dozen investigations into fraud and corruption in the province’s health department have been launched by government investigators.
A month-long dispute over salaries and contracts has closed some health facilities and almost 400 clinics are reporting essential medicines out of stock.
Since his return, the new president has been meeting with worker groups who are demanding salary increases of up to 12%.
“There is an inadequate offer on the table,” the Congress of South African Trade Unions said in a statement. The national minimum wage and new amendments to the Labor Relations Act are a “full frontal attack” on workers’ rights, added Zwelinzima Vavi of the South African Federation of Trade Unions.
The minimum wage was supposed to be introduced on May 1 but has been postponed.
“This national minimum wage would mean that a worker would have to work all day to afford a burger from McDonalds,” Vavi said, in a reference to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s holdings in the fast-food chain.
Writing in the Daily Maverick this week, visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg, Raymond Suttner, summed up: “The issues over which people protest in North West and in many other cases relate to the diversion of funds… from meeting their basic needs into the pockets of the powerful and their associates.
“More and more of these acts of corruption are being uncovered, notably in North West and Free State provinces, as in the alleged gift of R 1.5 million worth of cattle by Premier Supra Mahumaphelo to Jacob Zuma, resources meant for poor farmers in the province. Zuma has gone but the diversion of funds has continued and many, many of those who practice this continue to hold office at various levels.”
A national walk-out is already planned for April 25.