Africa was facing a strike by the unions, representing more than 85 000 people. After consulting government and key customers, the Transnet board had chosen to cut away those of its businesses not associated with freight transport after the government, its sole shareholder, had given it a mandate to reduce the cost of doing business.
The memorandum given by the unions to Alec Erwin, the Minister of Public Enterprises stated that they were embarking on rolling mass action in protest against “unilateral decision-making, unilateral implementation, undermining and disrespecting labour and its members”. It said: “Labour wishes to place on record the following: We remain ideologically opposed to privatisation of strategic public assets which can benefit the masses of our people, the workers and the economy as a whole particularly infrastructure delivery, training and job retention and creation.” It declared that the unions were “absolutely right to insist on a genuine process of negotiation over the restructuring of the Transnet Group.”
Strike action had started in the Eastern Cape on 13 February. The Northern Cape and Western Cape followed suit on 14 February. Transnet workers in Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo had then joined the protests on 20 February.
Ramos and Pradeep Maharaj, Transnet's group executive of strategy, were reviewing COSATU's statement, which declared: “The unions are absolutely right to insist on a genuine process of negotiation over the restructuring of the Transnet Group, including proposals to privatise Freight dynamics, the Transnet Pension Fund Administration, Autopax and the Blue Train, and plans to transfer SAA, Metrorail and Shosholoza Meyl out of Transnet and to move other business units within Transnet.” They looked at each other. Had they made the right strategic decisions?