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Significant strikes in RSA history

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Significant Strikes in South African History

In recent years it seems there has been a growth in the amount and frequency of strikes in SA causing much debate and uncertainty. In order to understand the culture of strikes in recent years and the strikes which are sure to come in the future perhaps we could look into the History surrounding strikes in SA and the significance they still have today.


Some early strikes in South Africa’s labour movement:


12 August 1946 – African Mine Workers Strike

Demand for higher wages

Duration: 1 week

Participants: 70 000

9 deceased, 1248 wounded


1 May 1950 – Stay at home campaign

Protest against Suppression of Communism Act

Duration: 1 Day

18 deceased


9 January 1973 – Durban Strikes

Protest against low wages, mounting unemployment and poverty

Participants: 60 000 to 100 000

Duration: 3 months


9 August 1987 – National Union of Mineworkers Strike

Protest over wage and working conditions

Participants: 360 000

Duration:  3 weeks

11 deceased, 500 injured


Some recent strikes in South Africa’s labour movement:


16 September 2004 – Public Services Workers Strike

Demanded wage increase

Participants: 800 000

Duration: 1 Day


4 December 2007 – Mining Industry Strike

Unsafe working conditions

Participants: 250 000

Duration 1 Day


17 August 2010 – Public Servants & Teachers Strike

Demand for wage increase

Participants: 1.3 million

Duration: 2 weeks



10 August 2012 – Marikana Miners’ strike

Demand for higher wages

Participants: 3 000

Duration: 6 weeks

34 deceased, 78 injured


23 January 2014 – Platinum Mine Workers Strike

Demand for wage increase

Participants: 70 000

Duration: 5 months


1 July 2014 – NUMSA Strike

Demand for wage increase

Participants: 220 000

Duration: 1 month


A strike by definition is ‘a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer’. Looking at some of the stats listed above one can see that the main reason for striking is a demand for higher wages and unsafe working conditions. But what can we learn from history?

History by definition is ‘the study of past events, particularly in human affairs.’ Does the past provide lessons for the present, guidance for the future? In addition to telling us who we are, does history help us know what to do? I suspect that not many of us still share in the confidence that through history we can make a better future.

However sceptical we may be about learning from the past, there is no doubt that we try to do it all the time. We constantly tell stories about the past to our friends, children and to ourselves that are supposed to convey moral and practical lessons. Physicians compile histories of their patients’ diseases in order to make diagnoses and determine treatments. Historical lessons are part of every political discussion and debate, our political leaders use the past to warn and inspire the public; to criticize opponents; and to justify policies. Historical analogies, comparisons and metaphors are all around us; they are a source of collective wisdom. It is unlikely that we could live without them even if we wanted to.

The idea of learning from the past so that mistakes are not repeated is one of the basic foundations for studying the past. But it should be remembered that each situation is different. The trick is to pick the correct lessons of the past and apply them to the correct situation, thus minding the wisdom of past lessons learned. So when confronting the significance of strikes in RSA history we should address their cause and work towards finding solutions in the future, not only due to the effect they have on our economy but also for a better quality of life for all.


I think this quote by Maya Angelou perfectly sums up what we can learn not only from the history of strikes in RSA but history in general, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

About Sasha Anderson

Millennial Mom + wife living the hash-tag life. Reach out if you want to talk: L2B, social media, construction, technology, marriage, parenting, shoes, dachshunds, popular culture or travel.

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