It’s Friday morning in Johannesburg and I‘m ready for a long day. I’m wearing my running shoes, an old pair of jeans and a dark green jacket. A scarf works as an accessory as well as something to protect me from tear gas should the municipal worker’s strike I am covering gets violent.
The striking municipal workers said they’d be at the venue – a park in Johannesburg – at 9am. It’s now 10am and not a red shirt in sight. Red is the colour of their t-shirts.
Eventually, a few trickle in. They want an 18 per cent salary increase, but government is only offering six. The plan, according to workers, is to march through the CBD and bring Johannesburg to a standstill.
There had already been chaos in cities like Cape Town and Durban – and I was bracing myself for a lot of running and ducking from rubber bullets fired by police, tear gas canisters and water cannons. There is a huge police presence and it’s clear the cops are looking for any reason to discipline what could be an unruly crowd.
I make sure I have my press card in my pocket just in case I get rounded up with the striking workers during a skirmish and wind up in a police holding cell. I actually enjoy the action and adrenaline rush – definitely my kind of journalism.
They start marching at about 12pm. It’s painfully slow. The police made sure no one misbehaved. Roads to key government institutions and central Johannesburg are blocked by police cars.
Fifteen minutes into the march that was meant to paralyse the whole of Johannesburg it became clear things were not going according to plan. Then we listened to about an hour of speeches given by union bosses. The group then headed home.
To be brutally honest, the march was a monumental flop. It seems union leaders can’t mobilise enough people to participate.
Workers plan to picket outside their place of work on Monday – or just stay home. We wait to see how long this latest strike will continue and if they will get the increase they want. Some strikers are even talking about going back to work.
From what I saw today it’s going to take a lot more than a few hundred people marching downtown to make government to give into their demands.