Street battles over youth jobs: the government's decision to deploy billions of rand to provide jobs for unemployed youth has led to bitter street battles between Cosatu, the national trade union and the opposition Democratic Alliance with Cosatu, surprisingly against the proposal. Tom Nevin explains all.

Author:Nevin, Tom
Position:South Africa - Congress of South African Trade Unions
 
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History of dubious merit was made in Johannesburg on mid-May when a march led by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille and MP Lindiwe Mazibuko escalated into a violent street fight after members of labour conglomerate Co-satu, wielding sticks blocked the marchers' way before pelting them with bricks and stones.

The DA protesters returned the missiles and fortunately no-body was killed although blood on both sides flowed freely. The melee was made newsworthy by the fact that the DA, more noted for making a noise in Parliament than on the streets, was at the centre of the ruckus.

Last year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan proposed a R5bn ($65om) fund to subsidise youth wages with the intention of making major inroads into youth unemployment, especially in manufacturing where it was most felt.

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The opposition DA and most of the business sector were strongly behind the idea. The unions, however, opposed the scheme. The gloves came off and differences were aired in ways that were ugly and unprecedented.

Seeding the furore was the government's reticence in deploying the programme even though it had been agreed by the Cabinet and funds made available. The measure was primarily aimed at making it more affordable for employers to sign on bigger staff complements.

The DA charged that the programme was being bogged down by the interference of Cosatu, a member of the ruling tripartite alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party. Indeed, Cosatu is dead set against the subsidy, and deeply resented the DA's public demonstration in support of it.

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But, of course, there was more to it than simply waving the flag for the disadvantaged young. With an eye on the looming elections, the DA spotted an opportunity to make voter capital out of Cosatu's recalcitrance.

Partisan politics rule

Comment on South Africa's new street politics flowed thick and fast. "South Africa's chronic unemployment crisis is a coming together of diverse and conflicting factors that stifle the economy, cripple production and obstruct employment opportunities," say Khusela Sangoni and Magdelene Moonsamy in a briefing by the ANC Youth League." Taken individually they're bad enough; collectively they're hugely destructive and seem to defy resolution. Ironically, the ideologies that joined forces to fight the democratic elections in 1994 appear today to be fighting one another, making finding an answer all the more...

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