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A march by the South African Trade Union Federation (Saftu) to the Cape Town City Hall where the state of the nation address (SONA) was to be held was prevented by the police on Thursday. The 2022 SONA was marked by a heavy presence of law enforcement agencies all over the city centre and on the highways going into the city. Earlier in the day, the police minister, Bheki Cele, gave a stern warning to those who were planning to ‘disrupt’ the SONA proceedings. Addressing members of the South African Police Service, Cele said that they will ‘meet confrontation with confrontation’. With their ears still buzzing from Cele’s tough talk and armed with water cannons, barbed wire and Inyalas, the police prevented all marches from going anywhere near the City Hall. Among those marching were Walking Bus volunteers, activists from Swaziland and the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPASA).

Saftu held a press conference ahead of the SONA address calling for the president to announce a basic income grant of R1,500, the reversal of austerity measures, and plans to create jobs, fix the railway system, deal with corruption and open doors of learning for all.

“That is why we are here today to announce that we are starting a programme of mass mobilisation of our own members and we are making this passionate plea to Cosatu [the Congress of South African Trade Unions] and Fedusa [the Federation of Unions of South Africa] to join in. Nedlac [the National Economic Development and Labour Council] has not worked for workers. Join hands to make demands on common battles,” said Saftu’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

Members from two Saftu unions, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) have been on strike since November last year against a raft of grievances they have with their employer. The Israeli-owned Clover is, according to the unions, implementing jobs and pay cuts and leaving workers with no recourse but to go on strike. Vavi said that Saftu has written to other labour federations to be part of a solidarity strike with Clover workers. The federations have not responded to the letter.

Fawu’s general secretary, Mayoyo Mngomezulu said that they are considering an offer that was tabled by the employer. “We are discussing the offer that was presented to us by the employer after mediation by the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry]. We have had an offer from Clover that talks about settling the strike on the basis of at least reinstating the workers that were dismissed, postponing the 20% salary cut until after an 8 months cooling period but to start to implement shift configuration now… We consulted our members and we have come up with a proposed settlement agreement that talks to the same challenges. We cannot divulge it at the moment because we came up with it today. One of the things that I can assure you is that we are looking towards settling the strike on the issue of [a wage] increase in terms of the two-year collective agreement, but see how we can take the issues of austerity to a separate forum whilst workers are back at work,” Mayoyo said.

In his state of the nation address, Cyril Ramaphosa announced the extension of the Covid-19 social relief grant until March next year.