More than one million state workers went on strike for more pay yesterday.
The strike is not immediately expected to have a major economic impact but a protracted work stoppage in Africa's largest economy could hurt commerce at home and trade abroad.
"We have nothing to lose but the chains that bind us," said Norman Mampane, spokesman for the POPCRU police and prison guards' union, which is one of the groups in a labour coalition representing 1.3 million state workers.
Economists worry that whatever deal is reached will swell state spending as the government tries to bring its deficit down from 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product.
Striking workers in red T-shirts holding cards stating their demands broke out in protest dances at schools, hospitals and government offices nationwide.