South Africa’s labour turmoil is hitting its neighbours hard, with their economies battered by the strikes. Most especially, the strike in the transport and logistics industry, which affected the lives of millions outside South Africa also impacted on the economies of the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Since August, South Africa has been hit by a wave of both illegal and legal strikes. Labour unrest, accompanied by violence, spread like wildfire. After the wildcat strike at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, which claimed the lives of 46 people, illegal strikes quickly spread throughout the economy.
A legal strike by more than 20 000 road freight workers demanding a 12% pay hike followed. It ended after three weeks at a cost of R3.6 -billion to employers and R828 million in lost wages according to the Road Freight Employers Association. More strikes in other sectors might still come.
When South African labour unions embark on strikes and other actions, they also bring hardship to millions of people throughout the SADC region and harm the economies of a number of countries.
The road freight sector strike is a distinct case in point. It especially affected the economies and people of SADC’s landlocked members. But countries like Namibia and Mozambique and even countries much farther afield, such as the DRC, Zambia and Malawi, which depend on South Africa for much of their essential imports, were badly hit.
Striking members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) blocked any road freight movement through border posts, including Beit Bridge, the main delivery route to Zimbabwe and beyond.
Deliveries of medical supplies, fuel, grocery and fresh products to Zimbabwe were interrupted causing severe shortages. Zimbabwe’s business sector estimated that the country lost as much as US$100 million a day.
The Beit Bridge blockade also affected freight destined for Malawi, Zambia and the DRC.
The events at Marikana prompted Zimbabwe’s Information Minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo, to warn that South Africa poses a “clear and present” regional security threat which warrants placing the country on SADC’s 'security watch list'. Although over the top and not without mischievous intent in the regional political context, there was some validity in his warning.