Two South African union leaders arrested after budget protests
South African police arrested two trade union leaders during a protest in Cape Town last Wednesday (24 February).
Andre Adams, provincial secretary of the left-wing South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), was pulled from the streets by police who broke up the protest with riot gear and stun grenades. Nadine Simons, Western Cape chairperson of the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa, was also arrested.
According to comments made on Facebook by staff from rights group, Right2Protest, Adams was in hospital as of Thursday. His case is reportedly being examined by the Equality Education Law Centre in Cape Town.
The protest took place in front of the South African Parliament, as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was announcing the country’s budget. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) described the budget as “pro-business” and ignorant of working-age people. Saftu workers observed a national strike on the day.
Less than 100 activists took part in the protest at Parliament. Police met people representing labour, education, and housing rights groups with riot gear and later fired two stun grenades, during Adam’s arrest. Saftu claims that police used barbed wire to block the protest earlier.
National news reports that the Adams and Simons were arrested under terms of the Disaster Management Act, which is to control the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa. Saftu say their members were not breaking the law, by wearing masks and staying socially distanced. A video of Adam’s arrest shows him wearing a mask, while police carry him into a van.
Saftu went on to compare the treatment of protesters last week to that of protests against the beaches closures in January:
Compare this heavy-handedness and use of brute force to how the police treated thousands of the rich who ascended on the Cape Town beaches, defiantly wearing no masks and maintaining no social distancing. On this occasion, the police did not bring barbwire, batons, guns, pepper sprays, etc.
Adams gave a statement to South Africa’s Eyewitness News before his arrest:
We’re marching to Parliament on the basis of all the inequalities that people are facing at the workplace, the failure of government to address them and we’re now seeing COVID-19 being used as an excuse to not address them.
Saftu has since been joined by other unions in condemning the arrests.
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Image credit: ANA screengrab