Thousands of South African workers staged nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday to protest against high unemployment and government policies they say have failed to create jobs and are deepening poverty.
Workers dressed in red t-shirts, showing their loyalty to the trade union movement, gathered in the eastern port city of Durban, Johannesburg and other locations for open-air rallies three months ahead of the country’s general election.
Companies in South Africa, notably in the mining sector, have shed tens of thousands of jobs in recent years in what unions have termed a “jobs bloodbath” as the economy of Africa’s most industrialised nation struggles for growth.
South Africa has a near-record 27 percent unemployment rate, and trade unions say that 9.3 million employable people need jobs.
Zingiswa Losi, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), led the march in Durban, which was attended by about 6,000 people.
“Today’s march is a national strike and we are marching to (say to the) government and the private sector, we cannot afford to lose jobs in this country,” Losi told reporters.
About 2,000 people attended the Johannesburg rally.
Singing anti-apartheid songs such as “Senzeni na” (“What have we done?”), workers marched through the city centre dancing and “toyi-toying”, a protest move synonymous with the struggle against apartheid.
Carrying banners that read “we demand decent jobs”, “no to job losses” and “no to outsourcing and privatisation”, marchers were undeterred by drizzling rain.
“Today black children are educated but there is no work,” union member and domestic worker Gloria Sithole, 58, told AFP.
Marcher Ben Venter, deputy general secretary of the South African Society of Bank Officials, told AFP that President Cyril Ramaphosa needed to act on initiatives that would set employment on “an upward trend”.
“The South African economy can’t afford job losses,” Venter said.
Official statistics released on Tuesday showed that the unemployment rate dropped marginally to 27.1 percent in the last quarter of 2018 from 27.5 percent in the previous quarter.
The drop was largely due to casual workers being hired over Christmas holiday period.
South Africa’s economy grew less than one percent last year and is currently subjected to its worst electricity cuts in years.
Also among the union’s demands was an end to state corruption and mismanagement.
The continent’s largest energy utility Eskom, plagued by debt and mismanagement, plunged the country into darkness this week with periodic black-outs imposed as demand outstripped supply.
The ailing state-owned company is grappling with 419 billion rand ($30 billion) of debt.
Ramaphosa announced last week that the utility would be divided into three divisions, but unions have rejected the move, saying it would lead to further job cuts.
COSATU, which represents about 1.9 million members, called for a halt to any plans of privatising Eskom.
It has been a key ally of the ruling ANC party, which is seeking to revive its flagging popularity ahead of elections on May 8, when Ramaphosa is expected to retain power.
The trade union’s leadership continued to throw its weight behind the ANC.
“We are in no way abandoning our ally,” COSATU official Amos Monyela told AFP.
“We will mobilise our members to vote for the African National Congress but we will always challenge policy uncertainty that affects workers.”
Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout
In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access
In a lush garden cafe in Sudan’s capital, a group of youngsters sit eyes glued to mobile phone screens, seeking ways to by-pass an internet blackout imposed by army rulers.
“It’s as if we have gone back in time — we are cut-off from everything, even from the outside world,” said Mohamed Omar, 25, sitting around a wooden table with his friends at the cafe in an upscale Khartoum district.
“Internet is what allows us to know what’s happening inside the country and outside.”
Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections has been widely cut across Sudan since the violent dispersal of a protest camp outside army headquarters on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.
The ruling military council imposed the blackout to prevent further mobilisation of protesters, according to users.
“They cut the internet so that people can not communicate, to prevent (them from) gathering,” said Omar, who has regularly attended the protests that rocked Khartoum for months.
Initial protests were sparked by a tripling of bread prices in December, and led to the downfall of long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.
But the protesters did not stop there, quickly demanding that the military council that seized power hand over to civilian rule.
Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible.
“My parents live abroad, the internet was our only means of communication,” said Omar, sporting a neat goatee and an elegant knee-length truffle grey tunic.
“Before, we could see each other by video, now I have to (make an international) call,” he added.
‘Gross violation’ –
At the cafe, some sat around wooden tables, while others typed on their phones and some browsed on their laptops.
Here, an hour of internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one dollar.
Generally across Sudan, the internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fibre optic cables, and the connection is erratic.
In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access.
At the shops’ entrances, men and women — sitting, standing or leaning against the walls — have their eyes fixed to their mobile phones.
“Cutting the internet is one of the means by the military council to widen the gap between (the protest movement) and the people,” prominent protest leader, Mohamed Naji al-Assam told reporters this week.
The impact of the blackout was felt Tuesday night when few came out onto the streets, even as protest leaders called for new night-time demonstrations.
Human Rights Watch slammed the blackout as a “gross violation”.
“Governments that seek to repress peaceful political opposition have in many instances cut off internet access during times of political sensitivity and crisis,” the rights group said in a report on June 12.
For the generals, the internet and social media are a threat.
“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters last week.
And on Wednesday, the authorities prevented a consumer protection association from holding a press conference on the internet blackout.
‘People still communicate’ –
Businesses, hit by the blackout, are struggling to keep their services going.
Kamal, an employee of an international travel agency, said his company — which regularly books tickets for embassies and UN agencies — has been forced to make bookings through phone calls and text messages, because they can’t access the internet.
“We get calls from our clients, then we call our back office in Nairobi. It is they who book the ticket and text us the ticket number,” he said.
“We forward the ticket number to the client, who then goes to the airport to take the boarding pass from the airport counter itself.”
“If a ticket needs to be modified, we used to do it from our system itself… but now we (have to) send people to the airline office.”
Other Sudanese travel agencies were shut for several days this month after protest leaders launched a civil disobedience movement, in the wake of the crackdown on protesters.
“Earlier, four, five, six or seven tickets could be booked in one day, but now, it takes four days to book just one ticket,” said travel agent, Hoiam whose agency was shut during the disobedience campaign.
The main factor was the “very poor” internet connection at her office, she said.
The internet blackout has been imposed by the generals “to put an end to the revolution,” she said.
“But still, with or without internet, people manage to communicate.”
Morsi: Egyptian authorities accuse UN of trying to “politicise a case of natural death”
The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death
Egypt accused the United Nations on Wednesday of seeking to “politicise” the death of the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi by calling for an “independent inquiry”.
Foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Hafez said he condemned “in the strongest terms” the call by the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death during a court hearing on Monday.
Hafez said it was a “deliberate attempt to politicise a case of natural death.”
Colville called Tuesday for a probe into whether the conditions Morsi faced during his nearly six years in custody had contributed to his death.
“Any sudden death in custody must be followed by a prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body to clarify the cause of death,” he said.
“Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions of Mr. Morsi’s detention, including access to adequate medical care, as well as sufficient access to his lawyers and family,” Colville added.
He said the investigation must “encompass all aspects of the authorities’ treatment of Mr. Morsi to examine whether the conditions of his detention had an impact on his death.”
Morsi was toppled by then army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 after a single divisive year in power. He was later charged with an array of offences including espionage.
Since his ouster, authorities have waged an ongoing crackdown on dissent of all kinds that has seen thousands of Brotherhood supporters jailed and hundreds facing death sentences.
A group of British parliamentarians in March 2018 warned Morsi’s detention conditions, particularly inadequate treatment for his diabetes and liver disease, could trigger “premature death”.
Tunisia fishermen are the lifesavers of the Mediterranean
Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years,
The Tunisian trawler radioed in for help as it passed the migrant boat in distress out at sea. But with the packed craft still adrift two days later, captain Chamseddine Bourassine took direct action. Fishermen from Tunisia are spending more and more time pulling in stranded migrants after a sharp decline in humanitarian and European naval patrols along the stretch of water between war-wracked Libya and Italy.
Bourassine, his crew and three other fishing boats ferried the 69 migrants back to shore on May 11, five days after their boat pushed off from Zuwara on the western Libyan coast. “The area where we fish is a crossing point” between Zuwara and the Italian island of Lampedusa, said Badreddine Mecherek, a Tunisian fisherman from Zarzis near the border with Libya.
Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years, and as the number of boats leaving western Libya for Europe spikes with the return of calmer summer seas, they will probably have to save even more. “First we warn the authorities, but in the end, we end up saving them ourselves,” Mecherek grumbled as he tinkered with his rusting sardine boat.
European countries in the northern Mediterranean are trying to stem the number of migrants landing on their shores, and the Tunisian navy with its limited resources only rescues boats inside the country’s territorial waters.
Since May 31, Tunisia itself has barred 75 migrants from coming ashore after they were saved in international waters by a Tunisian-Egyptian tug boat. Contacted multiple times by journalists, Tunisian authorities have refused to comment.
“Everyone has disengaged” from the issue, said Mecherek, adding it was hampering his work. Fishermen who run across migrants on their second day out at sea are at least able to have done a day’s work, he added, “but if we find them on the first night, we have to go back”.
“It’s very complicated to finish the job with people on board.” The complexity of the rescues grows when fishermen find migrants adrift closer to Italy.
When Bourassine and his crew last year tugged a boat towards Lampedusa which was adrift without a motor, they were jailed in Sicily for four weeks for helping the migrants. It took months to recover their boat.
Humanitarian boats and those of the European Union’s “Operation Sophia” anti-piracy force had scooped up most stranded migrants in recent years, but rescue operations dropped in 2019. “Now most often we are the first to arrive… if we aren’t there, the migrants die,” Mecherek said.
On May 10, a Tunisian trawler just barely saved the lives of 16 migrants after they had spent eight hours in the water. Sixty others drowned before the ship arrived.
Survivor Ahmed Sijur said the boat’s appearance at dawn was like that of “an angel”. “I was losing hope myself, but God sent the fishermen to save us,” the 30-year-old from Bangladesh said.
Police of the sea
Mecherek is more worried than proud. “We don’t want to see all these corpses anymore. We want to catch fish, not people,” he said, adding his crew was growing uneasy. “I have 20 seamen on board asking, ‘Who will feed our families?'” he added.
“But local fishermen will never let people die at sea.” For Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim, the fishermen “are practically the police of the sea”, adding that many migrants say large ships won’t stop to help.
Under pressure to catch their quota during a short annual season, big tuna boats out of Zarzis often call the coast guard instead of stopping themselves to help. “We report the migrants, but we can’t bring them back to shore… We only have a few weeks to fish,” said one crew member. For Chamseddine, the summer months look difficult.
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