South Africa

MUNICIPAL MAYHEM

eThekwini ANC mayor Mxolisi Kaunda lashes out at strike by alliance partner Samwu

eThekwini ANC mayor Mxolisi Kaunda lashes out at strike by alliance partner Samwu
DA councillors in eThekwini inspect areas in South Durban affected by the municipal strike. (Photo: Supplied)

ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal vow that striking eThekwini municipal workers – whose protest has been marred by violence and water and power outages – will face the full might of the law. But will the ruling ANC act against a union ally ahead of elections? And has the union been ‘hijacked’?

National leaders of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) said they wanted to persuade eThekwini members who are on strike to go back to work until a legal strike could be declared.

On Monday 4 March, KZN premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube and eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda had some stern words for strikers, but critics claim their bark has no bite.

ethekwini samwu strike

Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda (second left) and Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube (third left), flanked by police, at a press conference in Durban this week to discuss the eThekwini municipal workers’ strike.(Photo: Supplied)

The clean-up of mounds of rotting garbage had begun by Wednesday, a week after the strike started, but some in Durban worry the protest has been seized upon by Jacob Zuma’s MK party – or rogue contractors holding the city to ransom to score repair work.

Last week, Samwu, which represents 10,000 of the city’s 25,000 employees, had its members stop working after a meeting to discuss pay parity with council workers in other major cities.

But the eThekwini municipality said in court that “mayhem” had ensued.

Just before midnight last Wednesday, the municipality was granted an interdict to stop violence related to the unprotected strike.

A city official quoted in court said streets were blocked, fires lit and club-wielding workers had pulled colleagues out of their offices.

Threatening messages were sent and an employee was shot.

‘Treason’

On Monday, Dube-Ncube and Kaunda had an urgent meeting with business leaders ahead of a media briefing where they promised action against strikers who endangered lives and destroyed city property.

The premier vowed the government would not tolerate “treason”. 

“This is clear sabotage,” she said. “We will confront it head-on.”

Closing clinics was tantamount to attempted murder, she added.

ethekwini samwu strike

DA councillors in eThekwini inspect areas in South Durban affected by the municipal strike.(Photo: Supplied)

Kaunda said the city still had to quantify the economic impact of the damage, and that the number of workers on strike was “fluctuating”.

He said 100% of the city centre had water; a figure down to 80% in areas south of the city and about 70% north of the CBD.

Electricity had been restored in some areas, roads were unblocked and public transport was running.

Dube-Ncube said authorities wanted to meet Samwu to get clarity on the situation because “they indicated they had stopped the strike, but it continued”.

‘Hijacked’

In reply to suggestions that the strike had been “hijacked”, Kaunda said only law enforcement agencies were qualified to confirm or deny this.

Kaunda was later filmed butting heads with Samwu members at a heated meeting where he was addressed as “comrade mayor”, and then refused to engage. He later said the city was not co-governing with unions.

Kaunda has been under pressure to bust the strike. Business leaders, residents and opposition parties are livid with the ANC’s mismanagement of the city.

An insider with knowledge of the meeting between business and government said, “The wheels are coming off in Durban. There is systemic corruption and they admitted as much. They are not coping with organised criminals who damage infrastructure so they can repair it.”

The insider said while there was union unhappiness, strikers were fodder for rogue contractors supplying water in tankers and doing city repairs. 

“They are putting pressure on city management, and there is no unity of purpose in dealing with this. The premier, the mayor and Siboniso Duma [ANC provincial leader] are not on the same page. Infrastructure is damaged and nobody is arrested. 

“They have become masters at producing reports about what is wrong, but they can’t fix it.

ethekwini samwu strike

Areas in South Durban affected by the municipal strike. (Photo: Supplied)

“This is factional politics. There is Zuma’s MK [party], Duma’s ‘Talibans’ and the eThekwini faction. The battles are being fought for money in Durban.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently formed a task team with anxious KZN business leaders at the end of their tether.

“We have to stop this nonsense,” the insider said.

“The President could see we were not happy. Somebody cited GoDurban [the vaunted transport system] as a classic example of city failure. They have spent R5-billion on it and not one passenger has been transported because taxis control transport in the city and everyone is too afraid to do anything about it.”

Water tankers

Asad Gaffar from the eThekwini Ratepayers’ Protest Movement said the city had not been able to attend to power and water outages because nobody was at work.

“There are areas that have been without water for five days. I know Chatsworth, Merebank, Clairwood, Durban North, Westville, New Germany and Pinetown are affected. In KwaDabeka, people are hiring taxis to fetch water.

“The talk is tough, but where is law enforcement? We are also asking ourselves if there are more sinister forces at play.”

Gaffar said residents were still jittery and traumatised after the 2021 unrest.

ActionSA eThekwini councillor Alan Beesley said: “The ANC and MK [party] is a criminal enterprise turning on itself. There is huge profiteering from the chaos. Water tankers were appointed without going to tender. Those guys charge what they like. Having no water is dire. I know a business that has been without water for five days. They sent workers home.”

Opportunists

So is Zuma’s MK party flexing its muscles?

Spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela said the party had been approached by Samwu members for support around issues of pay and poor service delivery. 

“We channel simmering frustrations. We know that anger can easily result in a revolt if it is not led. It becomes dangerous.”

Ndhlela said while striking workers were seen in MK party T-shirts, it was “ridiculous” to suggest the party was involved in sabotage. 

“The only sabotage is the ruling party’s self-sabotage. There wouldn’t be a strike if they were diligent instead of negligent.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: IEC must act urgently against threats of electoral violence in SA

Samwu’s local and national leadership seem at odds over the strike.

Regional union secretary Xolani Dube said he was too busy with court action to comment. On SAfm, Dube’s colleague, Siya Dladla, was pressed to confirm whether the strike was over. He wouldn’t confirm that members who reported for work would in fact work.

Samwu leader Dumisani Magagula told Daily Maverick that national leadership had advised its members in Durban that due process had not been followed in the strike.

He said the union wanted Kaunda’s help to resolve the impasse by allowing leaders to address members on Friday to “persuade them to hold off the strike until it is legal”.

ethekwini samwu strike

Areas in South Durban affected by the municipal strike. (Photo: Supplied)

Magagula said that while it was difficult to ascertain exactly how many members were striking, the union put the number at about 75%. However, it was unclear how many were actively supporting the protest and how many were simply staying away from work.

Responding to allegations about the strike being hijacked, Magagula said the issue had been raised in Samwu meetings, but there was no evidence to support the claim.

“MK are just opportunists. There are genuine matters they know nothing about… they are riding on the wave of this dispute. They have not approached us, nor will they assist us. We don’t work with them.”

Illegal

Meanwhile, a lawyer with knowledge of the city’s interdict questioned why eThekwini had interdicted the strikers from violent action but never interdicted the unprotected strike. 

The city didn’t “go for the jugular” because of the ANC’s links to Samwu, the lawyer said.

The Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu), which represents 15,112 city workers, condemned the illegal strike.

Imatu regional secretary Queen Mbatha said: “There is no reason for a strike. No dispute has been declared. We are negotiating wage gap issues nationally. Strikers are misleading the public. Our members are being attacked and are not allowed to work. I believe there is even sabotage. This is having a very bad effect on the community.”

The DA’s Mzamo Billy blamed the ruling ANC: “This union is a creation of the ANC. The public needs to know exactly what the union wants and what the city is acceding to.

“The impact of this is severe: if you don’t collect rubbish for eight days, you have a crisis. If you can’t repair water and electricity for fear of being shot, it is a crisis. 

“Violent protests are popping up across the city and there is lots of speculation about sabotage. 

“We don’t want to send out false alarms, but we are concerned at how this is mushrooming. The mayor doesn’t have a plan like he didn’t have a plan for the riots, which also initially started in pockets.”

Orchestrated

ANC provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo told the SABC the strike was illegal. He said strikers should have been dismissed and the union sued for damage to city property.

Mtolo described the strike as an orchestrated “counter-revolutionary programme disguised as a labour dispute” aimed at unseating the ANC.

The city said 20 striking workers had been suspended and 79 served with misconduct notices.

Samwu had not made representations regarding the illegal strike nor had the city received grievances from the union.

Kaunda praised working staff for clean-ups, saying the city would urgently reinstate water and electricity supply and deal with sabotage threats.

Police would escort staff to work and were on “high alert and will take the necessary action”.

“We will not tolerate anarchy. We are not running a banana republic, nor will we be held to ransom,” said Kaunda. 

On Wednesday, 13 protesters appeared in court on a range of charges after starting a fire and forcing city employees out of their offices. 

On Thursday, the city asked residents not to put their garbage out for collection. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    The NDR turning on itself as rapacious greed and theft are the order of the day. Brought with compliments of the despicable and treasonous anc and its minions. This is all about power and access to patronage networks. Serving the nation with honesty, efficiency and dedication is a very distant afterthought. SA, under the vile anc has become a miserable and poverty-stricken wasteland and a virtual failed state. If only the masses in this count would wake up and connect the dots!!

  • Bob Fraser says:

    Bob – March 8th 2024 at 16:06
    One solution – Kaunda must go and take the whole of the ANC with him.
    If the strikers riot, cause damage to property or injury to persons and the wonderful SAP is either scared or reluctant to tackle the matter as they were in the riots in KZN and Gauteng, call out the army with firm orders to shoot. If this does not work how about a flame thrower?

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