Programme to address impact of Isithebe protests launched

2016-04-06 06:00
Left: Distinctive Choice production manager Shadrack Shange shows the damages in the factory caused by a fire set by protesters.

Left: Distinctive Choice production manager Shadrack Shange shows the damages in the factory caused by a fire set by protesters.

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Mandeni mayor Siphesihle Zulu launched a multi - pronged plan of action last Thursday, 31 March, to address the material and "psychological" impact the recent violent protests in the Isithebe Industrial Area had on the local community.

"The Mandeni municipal council has developed a programme of action in response to the Isithebe violent protest march, aimed at accelerating community engagement as stipulated in our Mandeni Public Participation Strategy and the Constitution of the Republic," said Zulu.

The programme of action includes the Lower Tugela Bulk Water Supply launched last Tuesday, 22 March and a prayer meeting for peace and stability which was held at eMakhempini Sports Ground, in Isithebe, later on the same day.

Zulu said, among other issues of importance, the municipality is tasked with ensuring that funds investors inject in Isithebe are secure.

He said the labour disputes raised during the protests would be handled by trade unions.

Zulu said it is also important that a cordial and lasting relationship between the community and business owners operating in the area be established.

After the press briefing and launch of the programme and during its second phase – the prayer meeting - the Weekly spoke to several locals and business owners who were affected by the protests.

Cornett Mathenjwa, who is employed as a security guard in the area, said he does not believe the issues involving labour brokers would be resolved anytime soon.

His companion, Xolani Seme, who is also employed in Isithebe, said: “Labour brokers take almost half of what should be paid to the workers and that is too much. Government should do something about this and remove them [labour brokers].”

While some factories are still not operational others have gone back to normal.
Office manager at Premier Waste Recyclers Ashleigh Bugwandeen said the plant lost an estimate of R1 million in damages when two vehicles – bakkies, stock and a trailer were set alight.

She said a week after the protests all the 70 employees were back at the plant and as of Monday, 21 March, operations had returned to normal.

However, other locals are forced to wait without receiving any pay.
Sihle Mchunu, Stanley Fakudze and Musawenkosi Nhleko are some of the estimated 2000 workers who are waiting for Distinctive Choice to resume operations following a section of the factory being set ablaze during the protests.

Fakudze said, the weeks of no-work-no-pay have been difficult.
He said during the start of the Easter long weekend workers did receive wages that were due to them before the protests commenced.

“For now we are surviving on that, we managed to buy some food using last week’s pay but once that runs out I do not know how we will survive,” he said.

He said most Distinctive Choice employees are turned down by other factories whenever they seek temporary positions once the potential employers learn that they worked for Distinctive Choice.

Mchunu said what is worrying is that locals have spotted several trucks transporting material away from the Distinctive Choice plant meaning, he said, the material is being worked elsewhere.

Distinctive Choice production manager Shadrack Shange said the clients are taking away material because they cannot afford to wait whilst the factory is non-operational.

“We are all in the dark until the insurance company and head office tell us when the damage is going to be fixed,” he said.

Speaking during the launch of the programme, mayor Zulu said although the social challenges in Isithebe cannot be said to have caused the protests, addressing the situation would require a holistic approach that factors in these challenges.

“It is therefore paramount that as the government, civil society, business and the community when we attempt to restore order at Isithebe we bear in mind the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment,” he said.

The programme – spanning several weeks – will include an Integrated Development Programme meeting for ward 10; a peaceful march against abortion – which, Zulu said, would be attended by KZN MEC for Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo and a social and economic development plan.

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