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January 2013, Volume 20, Number 1

South Africa: Strikes

South Africa, with 50 million people and the continent's largest economy, was shaken by violent strikes during summer and fall 2012. Most involved gold and platinum miners seeking sharp wage increases, but truckers and others also went on strike. On August 16, 2012, police killed 34 striking miners at Marikana who were affiliated with an upstart union not affiliated with the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) that won a 22 percent wage increase at a time when inflation was about six percent.

Analysts said that the strikes reflected growing frustration with the African National Congress and its allies such as Cosatu. The ANC has governed since the end of apartheid in 1994 but has been unable to spread the benefits of South Africa's economic growth widely. Over 25 percent of Blacks are unemployed, and the unemployment rate for those under 24 tops 50 percent.

President Jacob Zuma, in power since 2009, announced a major infrastructure investment program in October 2012 to create jobs and raise productivity. During the ANC conference in December 2012 that re-affirmed Zuma's leadership of the ANC, the party adopted a resolution that called unauthorized foreigners an economic and security threat to South Africa.

South Africa accounted for 40 percent of the GDP of the 48 sub-Saharan African countries in 2000, compared to Nigeria's 14 percent. The rest of sub-Saharan Africa grew at six percent a year over the past decade, compared to two percent for South Africa.