Africa

Talks begin after Zuma tells ministers to end SA strike

Civil servants protest during a strike in the city of Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday 26 August 2010
Image caption Workers were angry that the president has been out of the country during the strike.

Talks have resumed between the South African government and trade unions to end a bitter public sector strike.

President Jacob Zuma instructed his ministers to reopen negotiations with the unions representing more than a million workers.

The strike, which is entering its third week, has closed schools and left hospitals relying on army medics.

Union officials told reporters just before the talks began they hoped a resolution could be found.

"I have reason to be optimistic because the employer called us to a meeting," Manie De Clerq, a spokesman for the Public Servants Association, told the Reuters news agency.

'Stability'

But the main trade union federation, Cosatu, has threatened a one-day general strike on Thursday if its demands are not met.

About a million civil servants are already on strike but Cosatu's total affiliated membership is double that.

Mr Zuma's spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the government was "confident" it could bring the strike to an end within a few days.

"We are concerned about the fact that indeed the situation has deteriorated and therefore we need to end the strike as soon as possible and bring everything else to stability," he said.

"Those who negotiate on behalf of government will go with that mandate, [and] make sure that indeed the strike comes to an end."

Workers want an 8.6% pay rise, and are angry the government offered 7%.

The government has said it cannot afford to deliver wage increases that amount to twice the rate of inflation.

But the BBC's Karen Allen in Johannesburg says Mr Zuma's call to revive talks is driven by politics as much as economics.

He has been stung by criticism from striking workers that he has been on a trade mission to China while nurses, teachers and other civil servants have been on the streets demanding more pay.

And although ministers insist the country cannot afford more than the offer on the table, President Zuma needs to restore relations with the unions, our correspondent says.

They are his key power base and he will want them on side ahead of a major ruling party African National Congress policy conference in three weeks' time.

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