South Africa

Capital: Pretoria
Population: 54m. (2014 est.)

South Africa had joined the ILO in 1919 but left in 1966, due to the ILO’s position of the government’s apartheid policy. Membership resumed in 1994. In 1996 South Africa ratified ILO Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948) and No. 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949).

Anti-union violence has long plagued South Africa, not only during the apartheid-era, when trade union activity of black workers was suppressed, but continuing after the end of apartheid. The repression of some union rallies was in stark contrast to the generally progressive, pro-union position discernable in legislation and in involvement of unions in the political process, but it was a recurring and serious problem. In 2002, two mineworkers were shot dead. In 2007 and 2010 strikes were violently dispersed. In 2011 and 2012, the ITUC reported that police had on several occasions fired repeatedly into crowds of strikers and demonstrators. In August 2012 came the most extreme incident, when police shot at least 112 striking miners, killing 34 of them at the Marikana mine. Since the extreme violence of Marikana there have been numerous violent attacks against trade unionists in South Africa, including killings of local activists and leaders.

There are three well established trade union confederations, the dominant Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), part of the 'tripartite alliance' with the ruling ANC Party and the Communist Party, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU), though several independent unions and smaller confederations also exist. COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU are all ITUC affiliates, though COSATU has revived its informal links with the WFTU. The outcome of the Marikana massacre exposed deep divisions. Following the expulsion from COSATU of its former leader Zwelinzima Vavi and the powerful NUMSA metalworkers' union, a new confederation was formed, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU).

Full details of the country's political history, the development of trade unionism, and contact and affiliation details for all national trade union centres can be found in ICTUR's in-depth global reference book: Trade Unions of the World.

Link to reportFull country profile: South Africa, from Trade Unions of the World (2016)

Link to letterIntervention letter: police violence against strikers and violent attacks on trade unionists (2018)

Link to letterIntervention letter: political killings and death threats

Link to reportIUR article: 'The Marikana Massacre: wages as the blind spot in the tax evasion debate', Forslund (2018)

Link to reportIUR article: 'Marikana: many questions remain', Blackburn (2015)

Link to reportIUR article: 'New South African federation prioritises marginalised', Forrest (2017)

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union rights through research and advocacy services.
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