VENTURES AFRICA – The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is currently hosting its 11th annual meeting, with President Zuma speaking of the detriment the country’s economy has suffered under the nationwide mining strikes.
Opened on Monday, the COSATU meeting plays host to a number of trade union and government delegates. Usually an event to reflect on democratic and trade-union successes and discuss topical issues, paving the way for the coming year; this year, the atmosphere at the Congress has been chilled by the violent mining strikes that have taken place around the country.
President Jacob Zuma has addressed the Congress, urging miners and employers alike to adhere to the rule of law in resolving future disputes; while also detailing to the Congress the significant economic hit the country has been subject to due to the on-going halts in production.
Mining accounts for over 60 percent of South Africa’s export revenue, with trade in gold, platinum, and coal particularly high. While the miners’ strikes have been taking place over the past six weeks, production in some plants has completed halted, with other operations managing to resolve their disputes with only minor decreases in productivity. Nonetheless, the South African economy is suffering a substantial impact due to the strikes, with President Zuma declaring that the economy has already seen a detriment of 3.1 billion South African rand ($378 million).
President Zuma told the Congress that not only had the strikes caused difficulties in the production sector, but that pressure was being felt in other sectors, causing further financial losses. He spoke honestly to the COSATU attendees, saying: “The impact goes beyond the mining sector. The manufacturing sector, especially the Fabricated Metal Products sector is already showing signs of strain. We cannot afford to go into a recession, and revert to the 2008 and 2009 period where the country lost close to a million jobs, which we are still battling to recover.”
Calling upon the miners and employers to learn from this period of turmoil, and to take a peaceful and lawful approach to future conflicts, President Zuma said: “we have to find a way to restore workplace stability and labour peace. Violence cannot become a culture of our labour relations. Workers and employers need to use the laws of the land which spell out clearly how to handle disputes between themselves.”
Also present at the COSATU meeting is deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs, Moeletsi Mbeki. He has spoken out to voice his recommendation that the only way forward for South Africa is to diversify the economy and end such deep-seeded reliance on the mining and resources sector in order to prevent future fiscal downfalls. He told interviewers: “This is an old story that has been going on for 100 years. Successive South African governments have been told over and again that they have to diversify the economy of South Africa.”
Mbeki went on to add that South Africa should be following the models of rapidly developing Asian economies, such as China, and Thailand. Noting that he is not calling for miracles, he described that currently declining market sectors should be developed in South Africa: “You have to grow your manufacturing sector. You have to develop your agricultural sector. And South Africa has to rebuild its manufacturing industry, which is actually declining, which means we have to invest more and more and more in manufacturing, in education, all the things that the Asians are doing and succeeding to do them. South Africa has to do the same.”