Thousands of South African workers staged nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday to protest high unemployment and government policies that 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 southeastern 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, with trade unions saying 9.3 million employable people need jobs.
Zingiswa Losi, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), led the main 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 at the start of the demonstration.
About 2,000 people attended the Johannesburg rally.
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 hired over Christmas holiday period.
South Africa’s economy grew less than one percent last year and is currently in the grip of its worst electricity cuts in years.
The continent’s largest energy utility Eskom, which has been plagued by debt and mismanagement, plunged the country into darkness this week with rotating black-outs imposed as demand outstripped supply.
COSATU 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 President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to retain power.