UMDM strike chaos revealed

2014-10-31 00:00

THE shocking violence, sabotage and intimidation behind the strike at the Umgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) has been revealed in court papers lodged with the Durban Labour Court.

The Witness can reveal that the legal adviser at UMDM was assaulted by striking workers as she photographed them blockading the parking entrance to the municipal property on October 23.

A short while later three cars were set alight in the council parkade.

Nomfundo Phakathi has since laid criminal charges with the police. She claimed she was verbally abused, intimidated and assaulted.

On the back of these revelations, the municipality won an urgent interim interdict stopping the strike.

Residents across the KZN Midlands bore the brunt of the violent work stoppage that dragged on for six days and saw the widespread sabotage of water supplies.

In areas like Merrivale and uMshwathi residents went for more than two days without water.

In the application to the Labour Court UMDM municipal manager Sibusiso Khuzwayo pulled no punches in laying blame for the violence and sabotage of water supplies at the door of the striking workers and their union, the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu).

In his affidavit, Khuzwayo said the strike was illegal because:

• the supply and distribution of water as well as fire-fighting and work in the water-borne sewage division were essential services.

• workers had “set about cutting off the water supply in circumstances where there already was a water shortage”.

• they had suspended the operations of the fire-fighting department and blockaded the parking entrance to municipal offices with fire-fighting trucks.

• members of Samwu had set alight municipal property at 176 Langilabelele (Longmarket) Street.

• Furthermore, Samwu was “intimidating, threatening and assaulting non-striking employees who report to work. To that end the respondent accosted and assaulted the applicant’s legal adviser, Ms Nomfundo Phakathi”, Khuzwayo said.

He added that the strike had effectively shut down services and that the harm caused was irreparable. He attached correspondence from irate residents.

One of the letters said: “It is with great irritation that I forward this e-mail to you. It is impossible to get hold of anyone on your 0800 number which makes me wonder why the number is even in your letterhead. We are ONCE AGAIN without water, apparently due to yet another strike.

“The situation has got so out of hand now that I have been forced to spend my hard earned money on a Jojo tank, which I have had to take a loan to buy … Please could someone let us know how long this water crisis is going to continue so we know which way to go forward.”

The union vehemently denies that it has been involved in violence or sabotage. Samwu has until November 5 to oppose the interim interdict.

Secretary Jaycee Ncanana said they will not be challenging all aspects of the interdict, just two aspects — that their members were involved in violence and sabotage and that the strike had been illegal. He said there had been an application to go on strike.

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Rumour of other motives, hit lists

THE violence around the strike has fuelled rumours of hit lists and political motives for the strike.

The latest rumour is that there is a list with the names of municipal manager Sibusiso Khuzwayo, legal adviser Nomfundo Phakathi and the head of the technical services Bheki Mbambo for keeping a crack team going to deal with water cuts during the strike.

Opposition parties said they had not heard of such a list and Khuzwayo, who said he had heard about the rumours, declined to comment.

Earlier there was speculation that the strike was politically motivated and that a faction within the ANC wanted Khuzwayo, Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee and certain councillors out.

The rumour was fuelled by the absence of Bhamjee’s voice in the current crisis that has hit his municipality.

Attempts by The Witness to call Bhamjee yesterday regarding the strike were unsuccessful as his phone went straight to voicemail and a message left for him went unanswered.

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