The businessmen, members of the powerful South African Co- Ordinating Committee on Labour Affairs (Saccola), wanted to persuade the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) not to strike next month.
As if to impress the businessmen - and the government - with their muscle, senior Cosatu officials led 10,000 marchers through the streets of Pretoria yesterday to the Union Building, the seat of government power. The leader of what turned out to be a peaceful march, Cosatu's assistant general secretary, Sam Shilowa, said his organisation was engaged in a 'battle of wits' with Saccola - which includes the Anglo American Corporation. The objective of this battle was to convince big business to announce an industrial shut-down on 3 August, the day the general strike is due to start. Such a move would place business in alliance with the workers, and by extension with the ANC, against the government.
The alternative offered by Cosatu was an economically crippling week of 'mass action' which would include nationwide marches, rallies and factory occupations as well as generalised absenteeism. 'It's simple. Business must make a choice. They must reveal politically where they stand,' Mr Shilowa said.
Several thousand Cosatu members, hospital employees, have embarked on their own mass action in the form of an increasingly bitter, wage-related strike. Undercutting Cosatu's commitment to ending violence, the finger of suspicion yesterday pointed at striking union members, after three non-striking nurses died on Sunday night following a petrol bomb attack on their Soweto home.
The ANC issued a statement yesterday expressing regret for the nurses' deaths and condemned all violent action against strike- breakers.
Nelson Mandela left for New York yesterday to ask the UN Security Council to send a fact-finding mission to look into township violence. He said it was an indictment of the country's leadership that international involvement was needed to solve its problems.