Violence during Strikes: What are the Underlying Causes and Solution?

The sudden upsurge in strike violence and intimidation is indicative of a changed dynamic. The relative industrial peace post 1994 has proved to be a chimera.

The latest casualty in the strike related violence is a dog which striking workers torched. Fortunately no humans were killed when the workers attempted to set the building alight.

In a disingenuous comment, Castro Ngobese, spokesman for NUMSA, has flatly denied that any of their members were involved in these actions. Rather he accused thugs and agent provocateurs for these actions.

Does he take South Africans for fools?

After a relatively peaceful commencement to the new democratic South Africa, where the prevalence of strikes & their attendant violence was muted, the opening of a new chapter in Industrial Relations was imminent.

This has proved to be a chimera.

The Marakana strike and its resulting loss of life – or ANC orchestrated massacre as Malema would like to classify it – was an omen of a changing IR milieu in South Africa.

Strike violence #2

One always needs to distinguish between cause and symptom but I fear that in South Africa’s case, these two are conflated.

Historical underpinnings

Given the illegitimacy of the previous government and their unequivocal desire not to negotiate a peaceful democratic change, violence became the only channel to voice their demands. While most of the world legitimised this violence as a means to an end albeit undesirable and flawed, violence – in my humble opinion – is never the preferred method of forcing change. Unlike other forms of pressure, violence has one unfortunate property viz that violence begets violence. Not only that, it inures both parties to its effects. Akin to any addictive substance, it requires a greater quantity to generate the same effect.

By the time that the elections were held in 1994, most South Africans and especially our black brethren were totally inured to its harmful effects having borne the brunt of iniquitous actions for generations.

Demonstrations against Apartheid

In the South African context, the default position thus became a violent solution. A similar dynamic is at play in the Middle East and especially between Israel and the Palestinians where each atrocity is met with a corresponding atrocity in a never ending cycle of violence.

Despite 20 years of democracy in SA, such a heritage lingers in the national psyche.


Violence – especially that against fellow non-striking co-workers – is the weapon of choice in South Africa to enforce solidarity. Before 1994 Solidarity was a sine quo non as the black community stood unified against oppressive forces. With non-political agendas predominating currently, the use of violence against fellow workers rather than that of persuasion has become the preferred method of convincing and enforcing actions.

The rights of fellow workers to work, if they so wish, are thus being undermined and eroded on the altar of solidarity and cohesion.

Strike violence #3

The fact that white workers are not targeted implies that the strikers’ definition of solidarity has a racial and possibly political component attached to it.

Violence pays

This principle has been firmly established in South Africa. Unless the protest is of a violent nature, no notice will be accorded to it. Demands have to be reinforced by violence, the more egregious the better.

Like the demands of the pirates along the Somali littoral, unless their demands are never acceded to, their actions will continue, if not proliferate.

Strike violence #4

Prior expectations have not been met

It is in this aspect that the dynamic has altered dramatically within the past few years. The rise of AMCU and the EFF are equally a function of this new dynamic. After 20 years of facile promises, the patience of the average person has become threadbare.

Malfeasance in its manifold forms has added the proverbial fuel to the fire. Resentment and bitterness are now endemic amongst the great unwashed or proletariat as the SACP would call them.

This phenomenon is never doused by raising the standards of living as is happening albeit through social grants but rather by the meeting of the unmet expectations.

The solutions

Harsh police crack downs on strike related violence is a priori required. Hooliganism and destruction of property cannot ever be tolerated and needs to be severely dealt with whatever the continued inane comments by the likes of Castro Ngobese are.

However the only long-term manner in which this issue can be addressed is not with further oppressive measures but rather with substantially increased economic growth.


Like all socialist parties with their share-the-pie instead of the grow-the-pie philosophy, the ANC fails to understand what is required to be done to rectify this situation.

Furthermore in being in an alliance with the Unions and the SACP, the very vocal advocates of the inappropriate share-the-pie economic policy, the likelihood of an inspiring economic solution is not a possibility.

Mores the pity as the disgruntlement will not abate as inappropriate solutions are implemented and the nettle of the real solution is not grasped.

2.5/5 - (2 votes)

Leave a Comment.