Strikers sabotage city

2011-08-17 00:00

STRIKING SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) members cut off water and electricity to many parts of Pietermaritzburg and covered the streets with garbage for the second day yesterday as they pressed their demand for an 18% pay hike.

Strikers, who declined to give their names, told The Witness they cut electricity and water in affluent suburbs so that residents would voice their frustrations to municipal managers.

They also vowed to act against municipal employees working at night to clean up the mess they had spread through the streets in the central business district.

The strikers vowed to keep blacking out the city and cutting off water until the SA Local Government Association (Salga) gives in to their pay demand.

Salga said it can only afford six percent; the union has indicated it would settle for 10%.

Sources in the municipality said some Samwu members are using the strike as a way to settle political scores.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma confirmed that cutting the water supply is an act of sabotage.

“Someone shut the inlet at the reservoirs that supply water to Oak Park, Chase Valley and Ashburton.

“As for electricity, we have no evidence to that effect as yet,” he said.

Late yesterday Zuma said the municipality has engaged private contractors to help it restore services where possible.

“A private contractor is working on restoring electricity as we speak, and water in Oak Park, Chase Valley and Ashburton has been restored.

“We are currently working on the burst mains in Bisley and Northdale.”

Zuma said the municipality is disturbed by the trashing of the city.

“It would have been a feather in the cap for Pietermaritzburg to be kept clean during this time, in an effort to restore our image as the capital city.”

Zuma confirmed essential services like waste removal, electricity and water supply have also been affected by the strike.

“It was reported that staff at Professor Nyembezi Centre had to be evacuated from the building because teargas was released into the building,” he said, adding that workers at the the A.S. Chetty Centre were intimidated by the strikers and had to close offices.

Mark Veness, a production director at Eddels Footwear in Victoria Road, expressed his frustration about the power outage.

Veness said the main shift is from 10 am until 6 pm, but management had to send the staff home at 11.30 am when the power went off.

“We lost a day’s turnover yesterday [amounting to] about R440 000 and all the people that were sent back home lost an income,” Veness said.

The staff of 320 in the factory produce 2 200 pairs of shoes a day, but yesterday they did not manage to make even one pair.

Veness said that if the power outage continues for another day the factory might not be able to deliver shoes to stores such as Foschini and Edgars and would stand to lose orders.

A partner at Next Boutique, Diane Backhouse, said their business was rescued by a generator.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said they received several calls from businesses complaining about the power outages.

She said that if the strike continues in the same disruptive way, it could have “serious consequences” for the running of local businesses.

The normally busy Cascades shopping centre was empty as most stores were either operating in the dark or closed.

Staff at Picardi Rebel Liquor used calculators and cash sales to make it through the day.

Not willing to lose a day’s profit, staff at Milady’s operated by candlelight. Woolworths and Shoprite were the only two stores running normally thanks to back up generators.

Cascades public relations officer Kerrie Muldoon said, “A lot of guys are doing their best to keep the shops open under these circumstances.

“However, without power there are a lot of restrictions.”

Con Malherbe, owner of Coffeeberry Café in Cascades, said, “We have lost out on the entire day of business due to power outages.

“If the power is not back then we will lose all our perishable stock.”

In Cape Town strikers looted from vendors, set plastic bins on fire and smashed windows of vehicles.

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