SAFTU slams “heavy handedness” of the police in Cape Town

SAFTU's provincial secretary Andre Adams being arrested by the police in Cape Town during the protest against the austerity budget earlier this year. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe

The South African Federation of Trade Unions has condemned the excessive police deployment against the federation’s march in Cape Town in support of their national strike and the heavy-handed arrest of two trade union leaders. Andre Adams, the federations’ provincial secretary, and Nadine Simons, the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Demawusa) provincial chairperson, were arrested “for an offence in terms of the Disaster Management Act” according to the police. Members of the Public Order Policing unit were seen in the Parade area in preparation for the march, not far from where the motorcade was to start, with many police vans, two Inyalas, a water cannon and a trailer packed with rolls of barbed wire.

The protest which was meant to go to the City of Cape Town and then to Parliament ahead of the budget speech by the finance minister was stopped by the police. Colonel Walter Prins told the protesters that they were not allowed to gather under lockdown level 3 and that the police would not allow them to march to parliament. Saftu members argued with the police officers, pointing out their hypocrisy for allowing certain political gatherings to go ahead during level-three lockdown.

“Why did they allow the gathering in Bloemfontein during Ace Magashule’s trial and the people who are gathering outside Jacob Zuma’s home in Nkandla?” Saftu’s provincial chairperson, Nyaniso Siyana, demanded to know.

“We have not done anything wrong, we are wearing our masks and practising social distancing. We are not going back to die in the townships before handing [over] the memorandum in Parliament,” Siyana said.

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Saftu leadership engaging the police on their planned march to Parliament. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The police insisted that the protesters should “go out of the CBD”. Saftu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi described it as an attack on union members because they “represent the interest of the poor”.

“See this for what it is. This is part of class society, they will act against you because you represent the interests of the poor. They will not act against those that assembled and descended on the Cape Town beaches three weeks ago and in their thousands wearing no masks in defiance of the regulation, which forced the president’s hand after all and lifted the regulations that our people mustn’t go to the beaches. We see you, we see your two eyes. One eye for Black people and one eye for White people. One eye for the rich and one eye for the poor. You are acting inconsistently, you are provoking our anger,” said Vavi.

Members of the POP unit arresting Saftu’s provincial secretary in Cape Town. Video by Lilita Gcwabe

SAFTU demands

The federation’s demands revolve around what they call the “reorganisation of all economic life based on a democratically planned economy”. Among others, the federation calls for the nationalisation of strategic industries, a living wage of R12,500, cutting of wages and bonuses of the bosses, a basic income grant of R1,500, and implementation of the National Health Insurance scheme.

“But we are also saying that the budget is anti-poor and it’s an austerity budget which means that the poor are going to suffer more and not those who have money. We want the company tax to be increased and tax the rich. We also have a problem with the environment and when we talk about Eskom and renewable energy, we don’t want renewable energy to be in the hands of private investors. It is a public good, just like the vaccine. Nobody should be profiteering from the vaccine,” said Western Cape secretary of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) Western Cape secretary,  Abeedah Adams.

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In his budget speech later in the day, Minister Tito Mboweni said that the corporate tax rate will be lowered to 27% for companies with years of assessment commencing on or after 1 April 2022. Mboweni said that the personal income tax will be increased by 5 percent.

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