SA unions and employers to strike a deal

CYRUS VANCE, the UN Special Representative, is due in South Africa today, where he will find that his mission to help to achieve an end to political violence and a resumption of constitutional negotiations is looking less impossible than it did last week.

Members of the United Nations Security Council meeting in emergency debate last week could only have been reinforced in their decision to dispatch Mr Vance after witnessing the spectacle of the country's political players tearing each other rhetorically to pieces.

But hope has come from a deal struck by big business and the trade unions. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the most powerful ally of the African National Congress (ANC), recently announced plans for five days of strike action, starting with a general strike on 3 and 4 August, in protest at the government's failure to stop political violence and accept majority rule.

Big business, via the South African Co-ordinating Committee on Labour Affairs (Saccola), resolved that instead of confrontation it would attempt to sit down and negotiate - something the government and the ANC are incapable of doing at present.

The upshot is that the 3 August general strike will become a day of national reconciliation in which business plays its part by shutting down in solidarity for 24 hours. Any strike action will be suspended until the end of September and Cosatu will not take any action damaging to the economy.

One of those behind the agreement, Bobby Godsell, an Anglo American Corporation executive, was reported in yesterday's Business Day newspaper as saying that the two organisations 'had been asked to do things which for each of them are unusual'.

For Cosatu, it meant watering down industrial action; for Saccola, it meant officially sanctioning a work stoppage. It is expected that the agreement will be signed either tonight or tomorrow. Yesterday, both Cosatu and Saccola negotiators were busy attempting to convince their members of the wisdom of the plan.

Saccola officials must persuade their companies that by entering into the agreement they are not ditching their traditional allies in government and jumping on the ANC bandwagon. Cosatu has to persuade its harder-line members it has not sold out 'the masses' to 'bourgeois capitalism'.

The exact phrasing of the final document will provide an indication of who has won and who has lost the most politically: the government or the ANC.

For Mr Vance's visit to be a success, a European diplomat remarked yesterday, it is imperative that he avoids aligning himself with one side. He must come up with suggestions that avoid the notion of winners and losers.

'Vance must endeavour to help build a foundation of confidence and trust between the ANC and the government, and that will only be achived if the government can persuade the ANC that they are taking the problem of violence seriously,' the diplomat said.

(Photograph omitted)