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South Africa: Trade unions protest rising cost of living, record-high fuel prices

Placards of protesting trade unions in South Africa   -  
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AFP -

South Africa

South African workers on Wednesday demonstrated against the country's rising cost of living including record-high fuel prices and increased costs for basic foods.

Around 1,000 workers marched to the Union Buildings, the seat of government in the capital Pretoria, calling for President Cyril Ramaphosa's government to contain rising prices.

South Africa's economy is still reeling from the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in which an estimated 2 million jobs were lost, exacerbating the country's 35% unemployment rate.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also hit South Africa's economy, with the gas price reaching record highs despite the government's suspension of an increase in the fuel levy earlier this year.

With South Africa's inflation now at 7.4%, the rising cost of living has been compounded by rolling power blackouts due to inability of the state-owned power company, Eskom, to generate adequate electricity.

South African Federation Trade Unions (SAFTU) General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi addressed thousands of workers saying the cost of living is a crisis.

"We cannot breathe comrades. We cannot breathe when today it costs more than 4700 rands ($277) to buy food for a family of just four people. No!"

Eskom has applied for an increase in electricity prices despite it failing to provide an uninterrupted power supply for industry and households.

Moalusi Tumane, a school teacher in Palm Ridge, east of Johannesburg, said teachers are hard hit by the rising cost of living.

"I wish we could continue with the strike action for another three weeks, that is fine. That way they will understand our plight because for them to hear us, we must punish them," he said.

He called on the government to urgently increase teachers' salaries and the unions have demanded a 10% salary increase.

Linda Gumede, also a school teacher said she can hardly afford to buy basics such as cooking oil due to its high price.

"We cannot stay at the same salary when everything has doubled up. Fish oil (cooking oil) has been tripled-up. How can I buy everything when I have nothing?" she asked.

South Africa's largest union, the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, and the South African Federation of Trade Unions are blaming the ruling party, the African National Congress, for the poor state of the country's economy, which was already in recession before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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