KZN Cosatu breaks ranks on price hikes, warns of protests

While Cosatu in KwaZulu-Natal has threatened to mobilise society against the government’s handling of the rise in the cost of living due to fuel price increases, the federation’s headquarters in Johannesburg says it doesn’t want to be seen to be inflaming public anger.

The federation’s KZN chapter, one of the biggest in terms of membership, religious organisations and Abahlali BaseMjondolo shack dwellers movement held a picket in Durban against the rise in petrol and food prices this week.

The workers were also irked by the 3% increment in the salaries paid to senior bureaucrats and political office bearers.

Provincial secretary Edwin Mkhize said the increment had added insult to injury and amplified public perceptions that leaders are aloof from the people.

Mkhize said they will mobilise society in the coming months and take to the streets.

The government had implemented anti-poor policies, which had pushed the working-class communities to extreme levels of poverty, he said. “These issues were raised on the negotiating table through Nedlac [National Economic Development and Labour Council] and parliament, but the government took a hostile approach towards workers and the poor. Food prices and petrol have been inflated such that it has become unaffordable. We then resolved within the central executive committee that something urgently needed to be done to voice our frustration,” said Mkhize.

The federation had put proposals on the table such as calling for an overhaul of the fuel price regime. “We also said there should be the nationalisation of key assets such as Sasol as well as other refineries. Cosatu also called for a massive investment in public transport such as rail. This will decrease the cost of transport for the poor working-class communities. But there is just no desire from the government,” he said.

He added that there must be an investigation by the Competition Commission into the high cost of food.

While the KZN wing of the workers federation broke ranks, the national leadership softened its approach, saying provinces will decide for themselves on what action to take.

“Some of the issues are outside of the government’s control and we do not want to be irresponsible in our approach. We do, however, share the view that perhaps the government was insensitive by offering the increment to people who are already earning high salaries.

“This happened while workers didn’t get a single increase,” said Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali.

KZN police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi said the growing economic hardships might drive communities to the streets.

“What we know as the police is that the situation we face…  is dangerous for us because we are going to be faced with a number of riots.”

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