Workers go on a wrecking spree

2014-05-26 00:00

THE uMngeni municipal strike turned ugly over the weekend, when workers tried to torch a municipal office and burn down the town’s library and museum.

There was minimal damage to the library and museum, but extensive damage to the council buildings.

The Witness reported on Friday that the week-long strike had hotted up on Thursday when workers went on the rampage and broke council windows. Members of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) were demanding that wages be moved to the top notch in their grade — the same as was given to seven senior managers at the municipality.

In addition they wanted a once-off payment of R25 000 for each worker — as a once-off “14th cheque” payment.

After this rampage the council ordered senior officials to negotiate with the workers.

However, according to South African Police Services spokesperson Captain Lolly Moodley, these negotiations appeared to have broken down by Friday evening.

At about 7 pm while union representatives and officials were in negotiations, groups of workers began to wander off.

Moodley added that it was dark and difficult to monitor the protesters’ movements. They then saw smoke coming out of the building housing the planning and arts and culture departments.

At the same time an attempt was made to set fire to the library and museum.

Moodley said there was evidence that a fire was deliberately started in the kitchen of the planning department.

A room at the museum was firebombed, but the home-made device fizzled out.

A door at the library was broken and the floor at the entrance was set alight with a flammable substance. But firefighters were on hand to quickly douse the flames.

Moodley said that earlier, a group had gone to Mayor Mbali Miyeni’s home and dumped a truck-load of garbage in front of her gate. The motorised gate was then broken and the garbage was strewn all over her front lawn.

Moodley said charges of arson and malicious damage to property were being investigated. He said two suspects were known to the mayor.

He added that police were on alert since the strike started on Monday, but that — since this weekend’s drama — more police, including members of the public order policing unit, had been deployed to the town. He said that there were 24-hour patrols.

uMngeni’s acting municipal manager Steve Simpson told The Witness yesterday that he had accompanied the council’s lawyers to the labour court on Friday afternoon to get an interdict against Samwu.

The order was for the workers to return to work and to stop the damage to property.

Simpson confirmed that some level of agreement was reached. The municipality had stressed however that whatever was decided had to be ratified by the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta). He said that both Cogta and the South African Local Government Association (Salga) had advised against the implementation of the agreement.

Simpson said the municipality intends obtaining an order to get Samwu to pay for the damages.

However uMngeni’s Samwu representative John Dlamini denies that his union had anything to do with the arson attempts and the damage. He believes it was the work of agents provocateur. “Samwu is not a violent organisation,” he added.

Dlamini who is the national first deputy president of Samwu as well as deputy chairperson of Cosatu, said the mayor should have phoned him and informed him that there were challenges with the agreement.

“We could have spoken and arranged to re-negotiate. I tried to phone her but she never returned my calls,” he said.

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