If you've been following local news in South Africa, you'll see that we have sadly returned to mass strike action on the part of our major unions. The issue under the spotlight is the proposed national minimum wage.
Contrary to what is being reported, South Africa does already have a minimum wage, only they are what is called 'sectoral determinations'. This means that each industry gets to set a minimum wage that it finds appropriate for that industry. For example, hospitality has a minimum wage of ZAR3 193 per month for companies with fewer than ten employees.
Whilst in some senses it's a good idea to avoid the issues around a national minimum wage with industry-specific minimum wages, the reality is that the gap between urban and rural living costs and salaries is so stark that someone earning ZAR3 193 per month in Cape Town or Johannesburg would literally spend close to 30% of that salary just getting to and from work every month. That's before rent, food, and other bills. However in a rural environment, that ZAR3 193 would be enough to support a family of four, assuming the worker walked to work and was accommodated by the employer (which is common in rural areas).
The ANC is caught in the cross-hairs between drastically needing to increase employment (the unofficial unemployment rate is estimated at close to 40%) yet being under constant pressure from unions to guarantee workers a living wage. As things stand, our president, Cyril Ramphosa, is playing off one issue (the national minimum wage) agains the other (a living wage) by saying that it's government's responsibility to set the minimum wage and labour's responsibility to lobby for a living wage.
We'll wait to see whether the unions will accept the mandate.