City workers’ union denies sabotage; no end to strike

2017-06-27 14:24
Chanting Msunduzi employees protesting for their unpaid salaries outside the City Hall last month.

Chanting Msunduzi employees protesting for their unpaid salaries outside the City Hall last month. (Ian Carbutt)

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“Sabotage? It wasn’t us.”

That’s the word from the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) yesterday, who said Msunduzi was using them as the scapegoat for their failing infrastructure. They also said talks with Msunduzi had deadlocked and so the illegal strike would continue indefinitely.

This, as parts of the city’s industrial area in Willowton and homes in Bombay Heights experienced outages on Monday.

While power was restored in Hilton and Sweetwaters, lights remained off in Knoll Cresent in Northdale.

Residents in Winterskloof, Hilton and Sweetwaters complained the power that had been restored on Sunday was a low-voltage supply, resulting in many damaged appliances, which could open up the municipality to many claims.

They also complained that the power had been going on and off repeatedly.

The City shut down again on answering queries related to the outages and the strike, saying all questions would be answered at a media briefing on Tuesday.

On Monday, it was not clear if the municipality would be bringing in a private contractor again to deal with the situation.

The municipal call centre carried an outdated message from Sunday. One reader said she had to stay on hold for over 20 minutes before an operator told her they were aware of the problem but could offer no further information.

By yesterday afternoon, there was no end in sight in the ongoing illegal strike by electricity department workers.

The majority union, Samwu, confirmed talks with City management have deadlocked.

Parts of the city, including Hilton and Sweetwaters, went for four days without electricity amid allegations that striking City workers had sabotaged the electricity infrastructure supplying these areas.

Samwu regional secretary Sbu Molefe, however, dared the municipality to come forward with evidence that proves the power outages had been orchestrated by workers.

“We would like to distance ourselves from the sabotage of infrastructure. The employer should not use the workers as scapegoats. Msunduzi should take responsibility for their own failures.

“Not so long ago we were reading articles in The Witness which highlighted serious challenges being faced by the electricity department. As the workers, we will not take responsibility for something we did not do. There are a number of unrest [situations] in Peitermaritzburg, so the possibilities are endless,” he said.

Molefe said the union would try to schedule another meeting with the municipality.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the City would host a media briefing today where all media questions would be answered.

Meanwhile, Msunduzi Municipality contractors worked late into the night yesterday at the Sweetwaters substation to restore power to the areas still in the dark.

Municipal graders cleared the road of debris from an earlier protest while traffic officers monitored the area.

Mayor Themba Njilo was present while contractors worked to restore electricity. He said they wanted everything to be on track by today and would work through the night to fix the issue.

“We apologise to those residents who have been without electricity. We are trying our level best to make sure everything is in order,” said Njilo.

He also urged residents to use electricity sparingly and wisely during the winter period.

He also asked residents not to take matters into their own hands when experiencing issues such as the recent power outages and urged the public to report any problems to the municipality.

KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) said yesterday it was pleased that most municipal services had been restored to near full capacity.

“Cogta teams have been working around the clock to assist the municipality in dealing with unprecedented power outages and deliberate damage to electricity infrastructure. Our engagements with Msunduzi leadership have demonstrated extraordinary commitment on the part of this municipality to end the ongoing interruptions to essential services which include electricity and water,” said MEC for Cogta Nomusa Dube-Ncube in a statement.

“To date the municipality has to provide security to contractors who are being intimidated when they attempt to fix the problems. The interruptions in the supply of electricity have had a knock-on effect on the supply of water as water pumps are operated by electricity.

“The actions taken by Msunduzi range from criminal charges being laid against the perpetrators to security arrangements to bolster municipal services.

“The Msunduzi leadership is tackling the crisis with iron resolve and the residents of this municipality will soon come to appreciate this as municipal services including electricity and water resume to their pre-crisis levels,” said Dube-Ncube.

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