Gloves off as big guns arrest 'treasonous' striking eThekwini workers

04 March 2024 - 16:02
KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube and eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda at a briefing about the wildcat strike which has resulted in water and electricity outages through the metro.
Image: Supplied/eThekwini municipality KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube and eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda at a briefing about the wildcat strike which has resulted in water and electricity outages through the metro.

As the Justice Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster enters the picture, arrests have been made against “treasonous” eThekwini municipality workers striking illegally.

That was confirmed by KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube in a joint media briefing with eThekwini municipality at the Durban ICC on Monday to outline the steps taken to deal with the weeklong protest.

Workers affiliated with the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) have downed tools since Tuesday and taken to the streets, disrupting roads and service delivery across the city. Water and electricity infrastructure has been vandalised.

Dube-Ncube condemned the violence in the illegal industrial action, saying it has been punctuated by intimidation of non-striking workers at service delivery sites. Services such as water and sanitation have suffered.

She didn't confirm the number of arrests. 

She also noted that the intimidation of healthcare workers in municipal facilities hampered services.

“In the case where the public cannot access the city’s health facilities, we are redirecting them to the provincial clinics.

“We strongly condemn the cruel actions the illegal strike is inflicting on patients and ordinary citizens, as seen in the blockage of access to state buildings, including several clinics, potentially endangering the lives of innocent patients.”

The demonstrations have continued despite eThekwini being granted a court interdict that restrains the striking workers against interfering with the activities of the city, intimidating other employees or service providers and destroying property.

“It is of grave concern that Samwu and striking employees are in breach of the court interdict and therefore in contempt thereof as incidents of violence and intimidation directed to staff members and vandalism have continued unabated.”

She likened the actions of the strikers to treason.

“Communities who have been without water and electricity for several days are bearing the brunt of this unlawful strike action. Scenes witnessed over the past few days are pure criminality, economic sabotage and tantamount to treason.”

Dube-Ncube said the matter was being dealt with by all spheres of government. She confirmed that all ministers of the JCPS cluster have come on board to intervene.

She presented a progress report stating:

  • a technical task team comprising officials from all spheres of government has been established to implement co-ordinated interventions by relevant departments;
  • to address the intimidation of and attacks on non-striking workers, metro police and private security have been sourced to escort staff to service delivery points, including clearing of roads, electrical faults, water leaks, burst pipes and refuse removal;
  • as part of the business continuity plan, the municipality has made provision for some key employees to work remotely, and contractors have been engaged to assist with refuse collection and attending to water and electrical faults;
  • a team has been set up to analyse video footage of the destruction of property, including abuse of state vehicles by municipality officials who participated in the illegal strike;
  • the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs has provided a four-person team to fast-track disciplinary action for untoward behaviour.
  • eThekwini’s leadership will meet with the leadership of Samwu to explain that no grievance should result in destruction of infrastructure and denying citizens basic services.

Dube-Ncube confirmed the work of the team analysing video footage was already bearing fruit in the form of arrests.

“That work started on Friday, and yesterday [Sunday] we got quite a lot of material to identify those culprits.”

“That is why we’re very confident that some of them are being picked up and others being followed.”

She said no memorandum or petition has been presented to the city, apart from an Ekurhuleni municipality pay scale submitted to the office of the city manager on Tuesday, the same day the strike started.

“Based on the information submitted, it would seem that Samwu is demanding pay parity to that of Ekurhuleni municipality and/or implementation of Category 10 pay scales,” she said.

“The matter regarding the implementation of the Wage Curve is still under negotiation at national level as it is a national competence.”

She added they were still assessing the rand value of the damage to the city.

Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda could not confirm the number of workers engaged in the strike, but said almost all departments were now affected, not just water and sanitation.

He said they aimed for “stability” in the city by the end of this week.

He also hinted at the possibility of dismissals, saying they were trying to follow all the steps of the Labour Relations Act in labour disputes so they don’t find themselves being instructed by courts to reinstate workers they dismissed.

“You need to be thorough, you don't need to driven by emotion or to panic. You must take your time and follow each step so you act correctly.”

Dozens of striking workers were at Electron Road in Springfield Park on Monday. When a TimesLIVE reporter visited the area, the situation was under control after police arrived and made arrests.