S. African Businesses, Trade Unions Form Pressure Coalition
A BROAD democratic coalition of businessmen, trade unionists, and church leaders is emerging as a new pressure group which could help break the political impasse and defuse a violent confrontation between government and anti-apartheid groups.
The initiative has begun to overshadow last-minute political concessions by President Frederik de Klerk regarding political violence and put the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and its general-secretary, Jay Naidoo, at the center of the political stage.
The unprecedented coalition, which would act independently of political groups, is expected to reach agreement tomorrow on a historic document which calls for an interim government and an elected constituent assembly by the end of the year. The demands dovetail closely with those of the African National Congress (ANC), the major group representing black South Africans.
The initiative, which has been the subject of intense negotiations between leaders of business and COSATU over the past two weeks, holds potential benefits for both business and the unions.
The unions would gain a powerful new partner in their efforts to pressure government into a quicker political solution based on the principle of majority rule, and avoid exposing members to the hardships of a protracted strike. The initiative also would bolster the ascendancy and independence of COSATU, the major black union federation, in its alliance of convenience with the ANC and the South African Communist Party.
The business community, also in the grip of economic recession, could save billions of dollars by avoiding - or reducing the duration of - the proposed work strike. The business community is implacably opposed to strikes as a form of political protest but is considering a day of church-led protest action and reflection as a compromise.
"If we could make it a day of reconciliation involving church leaders in which millions of South Africans pause and consider the future I think it could serve a useful purpose," said Bobby Godsell, a director of the Anglo American Corporation who has been a central figure in the talks with trade unions.
According to a draft agreement in the possession of the Monitor, a five-day general strike by the ANC and its trade union allies on Aug. 3 will be called off and replaced with a voluntary shutdown and the convening of "assemblies for peace, economic reconstruction and progress to democracy." The assemblies would be jointly organized by trade unions, employers, and churches and would seek support for the document due to be signed tomorrow. The initiative would be formally launched at a national convention
before the end of July.
The document - which is described by the parties as "nonpolitical" also suggests steps to end violence and poverty and proposes mechanisms for resolving political conflicts.
COSATU General-Secretary Naidoo confirmed that the federation had reached a tentative agreement with employers but that the strength of union action on Aug. 3 would determine "to what extent employers were prepared to deliver."
"We are not taking action to hurt government but to reconstruct society," Naidoo said. "This country does not have the capacity to withstand the violence and anarchy that is wracking it at the moment."
"It would be unprecedented to have employers supporting a voluntary shutdown," he added.
On the eve of an emergency United Nations Security Council session on South Africa yesterday, President De Klerk announced a package of concessions aimed at defusing political violence.
The measures, which included the disbanding of three controversial military and police units, went some way to meeting the ANC's demands. ANC President Nelson Mandela (speaking in New York) welcomed the steps but said he would not be satisfied until the promises were carried out.