[DEBATE] : Hero to Zero
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Sun May 28 19:17:59 BST 2006
Sunday Independent, Johannesburg, May 28, 2006 Edition 1
How many more people must die before Mdladlana speaks up?
Our Father, who art in Heaven, why is your servant so silent? Membathisi
Mdladlana, the minister of labour, makes no secret that he loves getting
into the pulpit on Sundays. In the government he is not alone, with Ngconde
Balfour, the correctional services minister, and Frank Chikane, the
director-general in the presidency, both men of the cloth.
Several others make a joyful noise unto Jesus when not singing the praises
of President Thabo Mbeki ad nauseam. This is natural, since the Bible
requires citizens to obey the government. Cabinet ministers are also
citizens and must obey the man who put them in their posts. But when
something is amiss, some of those who love to make a joyful noise opt for
Mdladlana is the country's labour boss. His tenure has been characterised by
a raft of controversial laws aimed at shaking up the workplace, ensuring
that it changes from its apartheid past to reflect the new democratic order.
But at a time when the country requires someone with the wisdom of Solomon,
Mdladlana is tongue-tied.
Hark back to that joyous two-year period when the government's most
effective spin doctor, Snuki Zikalala, left the South African Broadcasting
Corporation to sing the praises of Mdladlana.
The labour minister was regularly in the news. Back then, he was not
reluctant to grant interviews or make unannounced visits to media newsrooms
to get a first-hand look at whether employment equity targets were being
But since heading back to the SABC - some still refer to it as Fawlty
Towers - Zikalala's gain has resulted in Mdladlana's disappearance. Without
Snuki, he's gone from hero to zero.
During Zikalala's tenure, Mdladlana was omnipresent, creating the impression
he was a man with his finger on the pulse when it concerned labour. He also
showed that he cared.
Perhaps he did. The two-month security workers' strike shows Mdladlana to be
uncaring and sadly, hopelessly out of touch. He has resolutely refused to
get involved in ending the unhappy impasse between the grossly underpaid
security workers' union and employers of security guards.
"The minister is not going to intervene because the Labour Relations Act
does not empower him to do so," Mokgadi Pela, his spokesperson, told The
Sunday Independent a week ago.
Such a response on behalf of the learned preacher is enough to make one ill.
At least 22 people, 16 brutally thrown off government-run trains, have been
killed since the strike began.
How many more lives must be lost before Mdladlana gets involved?
He should also explain to the families of the dead why innocent victims on
their way to work have lost their lives because a government that prides
itself on looking after the interests of workers has failed them.
Security guards are fed up with being treated like animals, working 12-hour
shifts under insufferable conditions and on top of that getting paid a
miserly R1 500 a month or less. Their frustration is so intense that many
have forsaken their meagre income to go on strike to fight for better
The violence and deaths, however, do not help their cause.
Throughout the deadlock employers have been silent, vainly taking the fight
to the negotiating table.
Post-apartheid South Africa has seen a raft of regulations aimed at
fulfilling the ANC's pre-1994 mantra: a better life for all. On the election
trail and in celebrating a decade of democracy, the government has been
patting itself on the back for what it has achieved in keeping those
The security strike, viewed in context of countrywide municipal unrest over
the past few years, is a harsh reminder to the government not to ignore
those who need them most.
The laws concerning business have resulted in a group of black fat cats
enriching themselves beyond their wildest dreams.
Those mired in the depths of the nation's underbelly of poverty, who face a
daily struggle to get to work alive, have every right to feel betrayed by
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