Police fired rubber bullets on protesting teachers throwing bricks and stones and nurses tore down a gate at a hospital as a nationwide civil servants’ strike for higher wages took hold in South Africa on Thursday.
On the second day of the strike for higher wages, teachers in the red T—shirts of their union scattered as police fired to stop them from blocking a stretch of highway during a protest in Johannesburg.
At least one officer was seen being taken from the scene bleeding from the head. There was also scattered violence outside some hospitals. Nurses tore down a gate at one Johannesburg hospital and striking workers were keeping their non—striking colleagues and patients from entering hospitals around the country.
Col. Lungelo Dlamini, a police spokesman, said police had no further information on violence associated with the strike.
The indefinite strike was also delaying trials because court stenographers were not at their desks.
Unions are demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase and a 1,000 rand ($137) housing allowance. The government is offering a 7 percent increase plus 700 rands ($96) for housing. In a statement on Thursday, the government said it could not afford to offer more.
“It’s a choice between improving the wages of state employees and continuing to address the service delivery needs of poor communities and the unemployed,” the government said.
South Africa has been hit hard by the global recession, losing 900,000 jobs last year on top of already high unemployment.
The government said it deplored the scattered violence and the South African army was on standby Thursday in case soldiers were needed to provide services at hospitals and elsewhere.
“While the majority of public servants have protested peacefully, the disruption of classes and health facilities is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” the government said. “Those who break the laws must not expect any sympathy from the law enforcement agencies.”
Nomusa Cembi, the spokeswoman for the South African Democratic Teacher’s Union, the largest civil service union, told The Associated Press the strikes would continue.
“This will continue until we get the response from government that we need,” she said.