Msunduzi: Council, produce sellers count the cost

2008-09-25 00:00

Four more Msunduzi Municipal workers who participated in last week’s illegal strike have been arrested, bringing the number to seven. The workers will appear in court today on charges including malicious damage to municipal property and intimidation.

In a report to a full council meeting yesterday, municipal manager Rob Haswell outlined the ferocity of the strike. He said there were invasions of offices, lock-ins and lock-outs of staff, personal attacks on the mayor and threats that sewage would be let into the water system.

He later clarified that these were rumours that were not taken lightly, given the sabotage of the water and electricity systems.

Some of these actions came from people in management positions. Level four managers were identified as participating, if not leading some of these actions. This is cause for concern, he said.

Councillor Mazwi Msimang said the strike showed the vulnerability of the city’s infrastructure, and said council should think about ensuring that only a few people know the layout of the system. “The fewer the people who know where the taps and other strategic points are the better, otherwise this city is not safe,” he said.

Farmers and agents at the fresh produce market are still reeling from losses, estimated at over R1 million, sustained over the three-day strike.

Those worst affected were banana farmers, who could not move stock from locked storerooms and get it to buyers, who were locked out.

The Witness visited the market yesterday morning and found hundreds of boxes of rotting bananas on the market floor. Crates of fruit had to be thrown away as trucks waited outside and could not be unloaded.

A distraught agent said he did not know how he was going to face his supplier. He is planning to travel to Swaziland to visit the banana farmer to explain what happened. A buyer said the overall loss was much more than R1 million.

“There are all the hidden costs; for example, we had to pay our own staff even though we did not trade. Some buyers had to travel to the Durban market to get produce because they could not enter these premises,” he said.

Market director Dr Julie Dyer apologised to farmers, buyers and agents, saying the market has never experienced such a disruptive strike before. She said she told farmers and agents to submit claims for losses to the council.

Councillors from all the political parties gave their support to the municipal management to rigorously pursue both external and internal disciplinary procedures against the strikers.

They asked for a comprehensive breakdown of the costs incurred by the municipality

Haswell said he was working on this and it seems the losses incurred not only by the municipality, but by residents and businesses run into millions.

“We are still counting the cost and the big question is who is going to pay. Infrastructure and vehicles were damaged. We had to hire private plumbers, waste removal services and private security firms. The city is going to end up with a sizeable debt, we all suffered immeasurably.”

He warned that he is aware of businesses looking at seeking legal compensation for their costs.

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