The labour unrest could become more chaotic this week as rail and port workers threaten to join 28,000 truckers whose strike has already disrupted fuel and food deliveries across South Africa, leaving some gas stations out of supplies, bank machines running out of cash and supermarkets suffering shortages of some products.
One oil company, Shell, has declared “force majeure” and said it cannot honour fuel-delivery contracts in Johannesburg, the biggest city. About 30 per cent of gas stations have run out of at least one type of fuel product, according to reports on Sunday.
Scores of trucks have been torched by truckers in their two-week strike. Dozens of drivers have been injured, often pelted with stones or pulled from their vehicles.
One South African newspaper, City Press, is using the banner headline “Strike Nation” to describe the crisis. But despite the clashes, the ruling African National Congress has seemed unable to respond, distracted by an internal leadership battle that will culminate in a conference in December to decide whether President Jacob Zuma keeps his job.
Mr. Zuma and the ANC have close links to the labour movement, and they rely on unions for key political support, which makes them reluctant to take action against the latest wave of strikes. But the wildcat strikes are outflanking the mainstream unions, radicalizing many workers and leaving the big unions scrambling to catch up.
Wage negotiations with the truckers and miners are expected to resume this week, and settlements are possible. But the violence and illegal strikes have shaken South Africa’s reputation and exposed its persistent inequalities. Eighteen years after the end of apartheid, it remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with widespread poverty and unemployment in a country where most whites still have comfortable incomes.