Thousands of workers in South Africa have gone on strike, with unions saying most public services are disrupted.

About 150,000 refuse collectors, city police and public-transport workers, among others, have stopped work in a campaign for higher wages, unions said.

Last week there were violent protests over the lack of housing, water and electricity in the poorest townships.

Analysts say the strikes and unrest are the first major challenges for new President Jacob Zuma.

He has called for understanding from workers, but the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Johannesburg says crowd-pleasing promises he made during his election campaign are proving hard to keep.

Our correspondent says a pledge to create 500,000 new jobs has already been retracted.

Strike season

Dale Forbes, from the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), said most members had gone on strike from 0700 (0500 GMT).

He said he was confident the public was backing the strike.

“They want to see dramatic improvements in service delivery – which must start with improvements in the conditions of the workers,” he said.

Members of Samwu and other unions walked out after being denied a 15% wage increase. They rejected an offer of 11.5%.

The country has already faced a major strike by construction workers, which threatened stadiums being built for next year’s football World Cup.

That strike was ended earlier this month after workers and employers agreed a 12% pay rise.

Mr Zuma took power in May after an election campaign in which he pledged to ease poverty.

He was supported by the main union federation, Cosatu, and the South African Communist Party which wanted a change in the previous administration’s economic policies, which they said were too pro-business.

However, South Africa has since entered its first recession in 17 years, making it more difficult for Mr Zuma to increase state spending.

DATED: 27th July 2009