Protesters demand factory jobs

2013-04-17 00:00

CHAOS broke out near Sobantu, Pietermaritzburg, yesterday as residents stoned police, burnt tyres and blockaded roads, demanding jobs at the new Illovo sugar factory.

Illovo Sugar, which is yet to open for business, is near the entrance of the township on the corner of Old Bishopstowe and Royston roads.

The protesters also demanded that jobs be reserved for Sobantu residents only.

Police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to bring the situation under control.

Workers in nearby factories could not get to their jobs and the blockade caused massive disruptions to early morning traffic.

Intrepid Printers managing director Trevor Cape said: “Some of our shifts start at five in the morning. Only 30 [of the workers] managed to be at work instead of 140.”

He said the company was considering moving out of the area.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said such protests harmed the the city’s prospects of attracting investors.

Illovo Sugar marketing manager Darrel Dewet said he was given to understand that the protest was not about his company.

He said he would meet the area councillor and community members today.

Sources said the protest had less to do with jobs and more to do with some residents in Sobantu wanting to oust ward councillor Thandi Matiwane.

Matiwane confirmed that she had been threatened.

“We were in negotiations with Illovo to employ our community members. At this stage, the factory has not yet opened and they only hired 10 temporary people to work for this week to clean the yard.

“The community complained about this and I don’t understand why, as we are still negotiating with the company for them to hire people permanently once they open their doors.”

Matiwane added that the protesters had threatened to burn her car and house.

A protester, Qiniso Phungula, told The Witness that the residents did not want people from outside Sobantu to work in nearby factories.

“All these companies should give priority to the community next to them. We were promised that we will get jobs in this factory, but now they employed outsiders, leaving us here,” he said.

Nelly Hlabisa said they were not happy with Matiwane.

“The councillor does not work with the branch executive committee, but with her own people. As a result, the community is frustrated. She is the main cause of this.”

The protesters demanded the presence of Mayor Chris Ndlela and when he tried to tell them this was not the way to behave, they heckled him.

Three schools in Sobantu were closed as teachers and pupils could not get to school.

Education Department spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said it was unfortunate pupils had missed classes.

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