Media Statement: People Unite in National Day of Working Class Action
Saturday 1st August saw communities and organisations across the country unite in action to protest the state’s dismal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the devastating effects of that response on the working classes and poor of South Africa. In deep rural areas and main urban centres alike, farmworkers, healthcare workers and casual workers joined forces with communities, including the unemployed, shack dwellers, activists against gender-based violence, housing movements and human rights movements. While most marched and demonstrated, others took over patches of urban land for community food gardens, dug over the earth, and planted seedlings.
These protests were most often coordinated and led by women, and by workers who are essential to making the lives of everyone easier and better – the farmworkers growing our food, the community health workers providing care in deep rural and urban poor communities, EPWP workers who do essential cleaning in schools, and streets. All of these reaching those areas where local government fails.
Almost all of the actions, which involved some 50 or more organisations and communities, practised masking and physical distancing while illustrating and building social solidarity with the various struggles that cut across our society. Protests took place in townships across Cape Town as well as Wolseley, Tulbagh, Robertson, George, Nelson Mandela Bay, Kouga, Makhanda, Nqamakwe Village, Cofimvaba, Idutywa, Sterkspruit, central Johannesburg, Tembisa, Robertsham, Nigel, Eldorado Park, and Protea South, amongst many others.
This was the most extensive protest since 1994, in the sense of its national reach and the combination of rural and urban, communities and workers, and many different organisations that have not previously collaborated. These actions may not have involved massive numbers, but the national reach of this event is an indication of the anger among large sectors of the population who have been plunged deeper into precarity by the actions of government and employers, and by the failure of both to protect workers and poor communities from the dangers of this pandemic.
Fundamentally, this is a protest against the thieving by a political and economic elite whose greed has hampered access to water in villages, stopped workers accessing temporary employment relief grants, and health workers being protected by proper PPEs.
Actions across the Eastern Cape were inspired by the recent struggles of community healthcare workers (CHWs) who have been on contract for 28 years and are being expected to work, during pandemic times, without proper PPE. At the demonstration by CHWs in Sterkspruit, deep in the former Transkei, Mrs Tshuleka from the Sterkspruit Taxi Association (HOTA) spoke for many: “I saw with my own eyes the beating of community health workers in Bhisho. I said, Oh Lord, what is happening to us? We are from the apartheid regime and it seems to be worse now under democracy… As health workers you are supposed to be handled as delicately as eggs, but the government never comes to listen to us.”
On the steps of the Gauteng Legislature, Executive Mukwevho, from the EPWP Gauteng Workers Forum addressed the crowd of hundreds: “The government asked us to adhere to lock down regulations and stay at home. They said they would give us R 350 grants and food parcels so we stayed at home. But two weeks later, none of this happened and we were left hungry.”
Among the multiple demands raised by protesters across the country were the following:
– A universal basic income grant now
– A universal health care system and mass testing to fight Covid-19
– Permanent jobs, decent housing and clean water for all
– Rapid release of land now for housing and communal farming
– Moratorium on retrenchments and evictions
– A stop to police repression and gender-based violence
– Close all schools and scrap the academic year
The organisations involved in the protests see this as the first action in a programme of rolling mass action uniting the struggles of the working classes across the country.
People over profit!
Issued by the 1 August Movements
For more information go to https://c19peoplescoalition.org.za/national-working-class-campaign/
Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima 065 848 3196
Mametlwe Sebei 081 368 0706
Thami Hukwe 062 309 0468