Unions threaten strike over control of violence

May 02, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa's major trade union federation weighed in to the nation's political battle yesterday by threatening a nationwide general strike if the government fails to meet demands of the anti-apartheid movement.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, an important ally of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, said it had no choice but to show President F. W. de Klerk that the anti-apartheid coalition was serious in its demands that the government act decisively to end violence.

"We know that our people are not the main cause of this violence. The security forces are deeply involved in this fighting," COSATU General Secretary Jay Naidoo told a May Day rally in Port Elizabeth.

"The police watch as hundreds are murdered with so-called traditional weapons such as axes, spears and bush knives," he said. "Vigilantes carrying automatic weapons and firearms are not stopped."

The ANC and its allies have called on Mr. de Klerk to end the violence in black townships, to disarm vigilantes and to dismiss his ministers in charge of the police and military forces.

"COSATU is planning to call a national general strike if de Klerk does not act decisively to end the violence and meet the ultimatum," Mr. Naidoo said.

The government already has missed an April 30 deadline for the release of political prisoners and the return of political exiles to the country. The ANC had threatened to pull out of peace negotiations if the prisoners and exiles were not home by that date, but so far it has only criticized the government for dragging its feet.

Anti-apartheid leaders used yesterday's May Day events to try to renew political pressure on Mr. de Klerk's government.

But Mr. de Klerk has charged the ANC with trying to make political capital out of the violence by blaming the government for fighting he says is occurring between rival black political groups.

He also has said that his government is moving as quickly as possible to release political prisoners but that the government and the ANC differed on the definition of who is a political prisoner.

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