I’m in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, about an hour’s drive from Joburg. I’m sitting on the terrace of the Sheraton Hotel, sipping a double espresso and watching the action across the road.
Across the road are the century-old Union Buildings, the seat of the South African government. It’s a complex of bronze-colored brick buildings at the top of a steep hill. Below it are acres of terraced gardens with spring flowers blooming. Below the gardens is a vast green field, where 30,000 South African civil servants are gathered. They’re on strike today.
Joe is a photographer. He’s over there somewhere shooting pictures of the demonstrators. I’m tagging along for the experience.
We arrived in Pretoria a couple of hours ago. We were early so we strolled the Union Building grounds for a bit, then drove back down into town to check things out. We parked Joe’s Landrover and marched along with the crowd for a block or two.
I took photos of Joe as he shot photos of the strikers. The strikers danced as they marched toward the Union Buildings, blowing vuvuzelas (which aren’t just for soccer) and singing songs in Zulu and other languages. The music echoed off the buildings on either side of the street. It was very festive.
We took off in the car again, only to get stopped at a road block as strikers paraded past for a half hour or so. Joe cursed. Eventually we were moving again, careening through the streets as I gripped the armrest for dear life. It’s nerve-wracking to ride in the passenger seat on the left side of the car. I have the constant sensation that we’re getting ready to crash.
The civil servants want a raise of 8.6 percent. My waiter here at the Sheraton wants to know why he has to work today, while the teachers, who work eight months a year but get paid for twelve, have the day off to strike. I think he has a point.