Vehicles torched, buses recalled — DA calls for police in Tshwane strike
Barely 24 hours after Tshwane’s A Re Yeng and Tshwane Bus Service resumed operations, multiple municipal vehicles were damaged in Pretoria’s CBD, leading the city to recall the buses, the latest casualty of an ongoing wage dispute.
The ongoing municipal strike at the cash-strapped City of Tshwane has intensified, with the torching of three city trucks and one bakkie, leaving residents without critical services and forcing management to recall bus services 24 hours after they resumed operations.
A similar torching incident took place almost three weeks ago when two waste removal trucks were set alight, resulting in some service providers withholding services for safety reasons.
The second-largest economic metro in Gauteng is now looking at urgently engaging higher levels of government in the security cluster to intervene and intensify efforts to investigate the torchings and make the necessary arrests.
On Tuesday morning, MMC for Roads and Transport Katlego Mathebe announced the resumption of Tshwane Bus Service (TBS) and A Re Yeng operations, which had been suspended for more than a month amid the strike.
“I am pleased to announce that A Re Yeng is operational, and we have seen a satisfactory number of passengers today and I want to encourage all our commuters to come back and use our services.”
Hours after the announcement, the city slapped seven employees, believed to be the “instigators” of the strike, on Wednesday morning with notices of intent to dismiss them for supporting the strike action. The group is accused of preventing buses from being prepared for operations and intimidating non-striking colleagues at the C De Wet Depot in Pretoria’s CBD.
Barely 24 hours after the bus service resumption, the city announced a complete withdrawal of services owing to intimidation, violent attacks and incidents of buses being pelted with stones and objects.
“This is for the safety of our passengers and protecting our assets. We profusely apologise for the inconvenience caused,” the city said.
On Wednesday, a water truck, three trucks from Tshwane’s water and sanitation department and an A Re Yeng bus were damaged in violent incidents in the CBD.
Two protection unit members injured
Two members of the city’s protection unit were injured and taken to hospital.
“The members are responsible for the protection of the city’s assets such as the depots and substations. At the time of their ambush, they were busy monitoring the depots,” city spokesperson Selby Bokaba said.
MMC for Community Safety Grandi Theunissen condemned the strike, calling it organised crime aimed at destabilising Tshwane by attacking the city, its property and employees.
“I once again want to make it abundantly clear that these actions are downright criminal and completely unacceptable. We have also moved far beyond any point where there could have been some sort of negotiations.”
Workers affiliated with the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) have been on strike since 26 July demanding a 5.4% increase, the last phase of a three-year wage agreement signed at the South African Local Bargaining Council (SALGBC) in 2021.
City management maintains that it cannot afford a salary increase this year because its R45-billion-plus budget for the 2023/24 financial year was underfunded.
Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Tshwane vows to stick to staff salary freeze despite strikes
The city unsuccessfully approached the SALGBC to apply for an exemption on the pay increase.
In a 12-page arbitration award handed down on 10 September, SALGBC’s Senior Commissioner Eleanor Hambidge ordered the city to immediately honour the collective agreement to grant workers a 5.4% wage increase. The city says it needs more than R600-million to fund the increases, which it has indicated it cannot afford as it is also battling to pay its creditors, including Eskom and Rand Water.
Following SALGBC’s order, the city immediately indicated that it would challenge the outcome, while Samwu equally expressed its intention to oppose the application in the labour court. Samwu has denied its members are involved in the strike or seemingly related violence.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tshwane councillors call on mayor to honour wage increase order as city holds out for appeal
More than 123 workers have to date been fired for participating in the strike. Their axing took centre stage during a council meeting on Tuesday, with some councillors warning that there would be more chaos and violence if these workers were not immediately reinstated.
The EFF’s regional chairperson, Obakeng Ramabodu, warned on Tuesday: “The residents and workers of the city are the collateral damage in an ongoing fight against the workers by the city’s impulsive executive who want to collapse the city as soon as possible for their own political reasons.
“The city is losing assets daily due to criminality and vandalism and we must condemn in the harshest possible terms the attempt of the city to act out of impulsiveness. We want the strike to end as soon as possible and the only way is by ensuring that the workers are reinstated, and their increases are paid retrospectively.”
Executive Mayor Cilliers Brink, however, stuck to his guns, maintaining it was not financially feasible to grant the increases and warning the council not to overstep its functions.
“I think it would be inappropriate for the council to become involved in individual labour disputes to entertain demands for certain actions to be taken and for us to make decisions that will have budgetary implications outside of the budget cycle,” he said.
Theunissen said on Wednesday the situation in Tshwane was out of control, suggesting that only police intervention would help alleviate the crisis.
“What we need now is decisive police intervention and action to identify, trace, arrest and prosecute the culprits who have put city property, service delivery for our residents and the lives of the city’s employees at risk.”
“The executive mayor has therefore asked the city manager and acting chief of the Tshwane Metro Police Department to urgently engage higher spheres of government, specifically within the security cluster, to intensify their efforts to investigate these matters and make the necessary arrests. These criminals should face the full might of the law,” Theunissen said.
DA caucus spokesperson Kwena Moloto echoed his sentiments.
“The reality is that this is untenable and as the City of Tshwane and DA caucus, we are requesting that SAPS urgently get involved in this issue. It is very clear that this is not a labour dispute, this is organised crime … We need the assistance of SAPS so that we can continue rendering services.” DM