Just how much has South Africa's interminable series of auto strikes cost the industry?

It appears - although given the way talks have dragged on for 15 days who knows? - a deal is being inked today in the same Johannesburg hotel that saw the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) do battle for the past two weeks.

Several attempts to ask both parties what financial implications the strike has had elicited no more than "the strike cost on all sides" (RMI CEO Jeff Osborne) and "we have not gone to the exercise of what it cost the industry" (NUMSA deputy general president Karl Cloete).

All that can be garnered is that the bitter dispute - entailing what appears to be a fair amount of intimidation and violence to boot - has drained the indusry of billions of Rand.

And this against a backdrop of widespread national strikes across countless sectors that mushroomed extraordinarily quickly after South Africa's honeymoon period that was the World Cup.

But time after time the RMI, as the employers' organisation, has highlighted the reputational effect the strike has caused, in tandem with the obvious financial implications to both workers and industry.

Some seven major OEMs are in South Africa and this latest paralysing walkout by component workers came hot on the heels of the equally destructive strike in August - involving the same union.

It seems only very few OEMs managed to stagger on with any degree of production certainty, while even those that did ran perilously close to shuttering gates.

But that reputation will now have overseas investors eyeing the country with a certain amount of trepidation.

The deal that has been struck in smoky hotel rooms in Johannesburg is for three years and has been overseen by a Labour Commissioner to ensure fair play.

The agreement covers auto sectors as diverse as petrol station operations and tyre manufacturers among 14 sectors - a series of negotiations so Byzantine in complexity it is a wonder all parties didn't take two months let alone two weeks.

But how binding is the deal? What if NUMSA - which recently called on its "allies" for support - without specifying who these might be - decides it actually doesn't like the deal after all and flexes its muscles once again?

Well, there might just be one significant and hefty brake there. As the RMI pointed out, it's NUMSA's members who have lost just as much as the employers.

The 70,000 workers who walked out more than two weeks must have had some pretty serious grievances to down tools in a wage economy where there is presumably precious little in the way of union resources to fund strike pay.

Maybe NUMSA was riding the crest of the nationwide social unrest, but nonetheless, it has achieved at least part of its aims with a decent wage settlement for three years - if it lasts.

But now those 70,000 will be looking surely for a period of stability after immense upheaval for the past two months. Time for both sides surely to take a deep breath and make the agreement work.

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