It seems it is impossible for Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) members to hold a lawful strike without some unlawful violence.
Cases in point are the two-day-old transport strike involving the SA Transport & Allied Workers Union, the 2007 public servants` strike and the 2006 security workers` strike.
In Pretoria and Johannesburg police had to use rubber bullets to disperse illegal gatherings of striking truck drivers. In the former two trucks were also set on fire and non-striking drivers were forced to join the strike.
The 2006 strike saw several murders and the public sector strike required the SA Army to deploy infantry to protect hospitals and medical staff.
But let me not bash Cosatu. In all cases the federation and unions concerned condemned the violence and this week is no exception.
Satawu Gauteng secretary Xolani Nyamezele has urged hotheads to cool it. “Comrades, we do not need to lose focus. We know what we want and we must be disciplined,” he reportedly told them. “We cannot alienate ourselves from the community that we need to sympathise with us,” he added.
And it is not just Cosatu who throw a violent strike. Taxi associations know how to make mayhem as well as Johannesburg residents experienced first hand last month when some protested the Bus Rapid Transit system under construction in the city. In addition to blockading roads, looting street vendors and attacking some shops the taxi types also shot at least one bus driver (wounding him) and assaulted bus commuters.
It is difficult to sympathise with people who seem to use violence as a first – or is that fist – recourse, no matter how just the cause or how grievous the injury being protested.
But it doesn`t answer the question of why ostensibly ordinary working people so readily embrace violence.
I don`t have any answers myself but I`m reminded that many talking heads in the national commentariat have pointed to the extraordinary high level of domestic violence in South Africa as well as the gratuitous brutality that all-too-often accompanies crime. I`m no sociologist but there seems to be a link. That bodes no good; especially at a time experts are warning us that neither the police nor the military are ready or able to handle angry crowds.