Traffic strike stand-off

2012-11-21 00:00

THE strike by armed traffic officers has turned into a Mexican stand-off as the Msunduzi Municipality attempts to bring the situation under control without “possible bloodshed”.

The municipality yesterday served the strikers with a court interdict to force them to return to work following allegations that they had threatened to bomb the traffic department’s headquarters on Washington Road, torch state vehicles and shoot the armed security guards brought in to protect it.

According to security guards on duty, the striking officers tore the copy of the interdict into pieces and vowed to challenge the lock-down.

One of the officers on strike, identified as Thubane Lamula, apparently has a key to the department’s armoury. The officers have been on an illegal strike since last week and have been subsequently locked out of their workplace. The place is now guarded by armed security personnel from Gawula Security.

The striking officers were last week asked to return their guns and state vehicles, but have since refused to do so.

Msunduzi’s acting public safety manager Thomas Allan Bennett said the police could not be permanently deployed at Washington Road, and further it was “not desirable” that the police should use force to bring the situation under control, particularly as the strikers were also armed.

The municipality obtained an urgent interim interdict in the Durban Labour Court yesterday to halt the strike which, according to Bennett, had become “tense”.

According to his affidavit, Mfundo Luthuli, the proprietor of Gawula Security — the company employed by the municipality and which posted guards at Washington Road at the weekend — was confronted at his home in Edendale by an unknown person on Saturday afternoon.

The person told Luthuli that traffic officers who had been refused entry that day were “furious” and were “mobilising” others.

“He stated that ‘our guys’ are planning to torch the vehicles impounded at Washington Road; bomb the buildings at Washington Road and shoot the security guards at Washington Road,” said Bennett.

He said although Msunduzi’s security company was in control of the premises, there was “bound to be a confrontation” when protesters, who were all issued with firearms, attempted to continue their protest action.

Bennett revealed that the municipality intends to suspend and discipline those who took part in the strike and said they should not be allowed to retain their uniforms or identification cards.

He said that management had hoped that with the “force of a court order” the traffic officers would be compelled to comply with the law, and avoid possible bloodshed “as recently occurred in similar circumstances elsewhere in the country”.

Benett also expressed concern that the officers possessed vehicles, guns and teargas cannisters belonging to Msunduzi. He said they had already used their vehicles and teargas during the strike and the municipality was obliged to recall the weapons and equipment from them in order to ensure public safety.

In terms of yesterday’s court order, 36 traffic officials were interdicted from continuing with “any activity” calculated to further the ends of the “unlawful” and “unprotected” strike.

They also may not block access points to the traffic department or obstruct work or business at the department’s offices, hold any gatherings at the Washington Road headquarters, assault or intimidate other employees, spray teargas or perform any acts of sabotage.

They were also ordered to return all “working tools” including vehicles, firearms, teargas cannisters, uniforms and appointment cards to the municipality.

Lamula was ordered to return the keys to the Washington Road armoury safe.

Those who failed to comply would face arrest, it stated.

The striking officers told The Witness that they had referred the matter to the South African Municipal Workers Union’s legal team who were “studying the interdict”.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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