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By Gerhard Papenfus

Monday, 20 March 2023 is the anticipated EFF / SAFTU protest action. The first question in everybody’s mind is: must we even pay this any attention? A kneejerk reaction, at least for some, is that this is a ‘none event’.  However, should it be anything more, this newsletter becomes relevant.

What they protest against, will only get worse as a result of the events of the day. The Eskom-, poor service delivery-, corruption- and the unemployment crises (which they present as the reasons for their actions) will not improve as a result of the protest. Resolving these issues requires virtues that, in particular the EFF, does not possess. 

The EFF has no real desire to solve any of the issues which form the object of their protest. Their attempt to prevent educational facilities, businesses, municipalities and border posts from functioning, and disrupting all forms of transport, is not aimed at solving anything; it is aimed at further destabilising anything positive that still prevails, simply because the crisis is their lifeline. A normalised society is the last thing these destructive forces desire. Unemployment, poverty, hunger, desperation, and eventual anarchy, is fertile soil for them; it is their path to what they term ‘success’.

The term ‘apocalyptic’ rather appropriately describes the world their actions will create, if what they intend on doing, and its consequences, not only on 20 March, but generally, are allowed to prevail.

Business has the right to be open and do business on Monday, and employees have the right to tender their services on that day. They have the right to conduct their affairs in a manner they see fit and the EFF and SAFTU do not have the right to interfere with these rights. However, that is exactly what they, especially the EFF, is setting out to do.

How do businesses respond to threats being made against those of them who dare to conduct their affairs on that day – if the subtle threat by the EFF is to be taken seriously. It absolutely goes against the grain of any businessman to give in, in any shape or form, to the threats and demands of mindless hooligans; but a decision in this regard is not that simple. 

In contemplating the appropriate response to Monday’s protest action, let us consider the following:

  • by far the majority of South Africans are law abiding citizens who desire to live their lives in peace;
  • we see millions of them going to work every day, getting up early to get to work on time, utilising all kinds of transport; walking, bicycles, busses, taxi’s, trains, cars. One of my employees gets up at 3 on a Monday morning in order to be at work at 8; and
  • these workers go to work because they want to, because they have taken up the responsibility to care for themselves and their dependants.  

Similar to employers grappling with an appropriate response, so are employees also contemplating their response. They are pawns in this battle for political attention and therefore also face a predicament:

  • if they do not work on Monday, they will not be paid for the day;
  • if they want to go to work, they may find that there is no transport; and going to work may pose some risks at the hand of the anarchists joining the protest action; 
  • they will probably not be able to rely on the police for any protection; and 
  • their community structures and dynamics will likely play a role in their decision-making. 

Although giving in to the EFF’s demands goes against everything a businessman stands for, employers need to take cognisance of the welfare of their employees in these circumstances. 

Our proposal to employers is therefore that:

  • employers adopt a pragmatic approach in this regard;
  • they consult with their employees over appropriate action;
  • the circumstances in the area in which employees live, and the circumstances surrounding their means of transport on the day, be taken into consideration;
  • those who want to work on Monday, be allowed to do so, and if a business is closed for the day, that employees be paid for that day; and
  • those employees who would rather stay home on the day be allowed to take paid leave.

Monday, 20 March is an opportunity to bolster the relationship between employers and their employees by standing together and uniting against disruptive forces. The worst outcome of Monday’s events for the EFF/SAFTU, is a balanced approach and the strengthening of the employer-employee relationship. 

What lies ahead is a South Africa where this type of action will be experienced more frequently. Our future will be determined by the extent to which we can meet these challenges in a reasonable and measured manner.

Gerhard Papenfus is the Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA).

For more information:
NEASA Media Department