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eThekwini ‘on brink of collapse’ as city struggles with Samwu strike fallout

eThekwini ‘on brink of collapse’ as city struggles with Samwu strike fallout
Areas in South Durban that were affected by the municipal strike. (Photo: Supplied)

Cleanup operations have begun in eThekwini after Samwu told striking workers to resume their duties. However, residents still suffer from a lack of service delivery and the city’s troubles appear far from over.

The eThekwini Municipality resembled Ground Zero after a three-week wildcat strike by the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu), amid allegations of sabotage and protests by angry residents who had gone without water, electricity and other basic services.

Rubbish piled up and sewage flowed down streets and into rivers. Many areas had neither water nor electricity for days.

Some residents continued to dump their refuse, which had not been collected throughout the strike, on landfill sites scattered across the municipality.

ethekwini samwu strike

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

The strike began on 27 February with workers demanding salary adjustments similar to those received by workers in other metropolitan municipalities. Striking workers allegedly assaulted a municipal worker in Umlazi, leading to her hospitalisation.

On Wednesday, 13 workers appeared in the Durban Magistrates’ Court, facing charges including public violence, damaging essential infrastructure and intimidation of non-striking workers.

Mayor of eThekwini Mxolisi Kaunda said 88 workers had been dismissed for their participation in the strike; 81 were on precautionary suspension and 1,781 had been given notices of misconduct.

Read more in Daily Maverick: eThekwini ANC mayor Mxolisi Kaunda lashes out at strike by alliance partner Samwu

The municipality was granted a court interdict two weeks ago that barred workers from engaging in violence during the strike.

Samwu, which represents more than 10,000 of the city’s 25,000 workers, said it had suspended the strike while negotiations with the eThekwini Municipality, the KZN government and the national government were under way.

This week, the union said it had asked striking workers to return to their duties, but some may have not got the message and were still on strike.

Samwu general secretary Dumisani Magagula told TimesLIVE they suspended the strike after holding a “positive” dialogue with Kaunda and other government officials. The issue of pay parity with other metropolitan municipalities had been discussed at a special workshop facilitated by the eThekwini Municipality.


After three weeks of trash building up, the clean-up operation began on Wednesday, but it was clear that it would take many days to remove refuse and restore water and electricity services.

Residents in Phoenix and Verulam took to the streets, saying that they had had no water for days and demanding that Kaunda come and address their plight.

On Wednesday, residents marched to the Durban City Hall. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them and arrested some for public violence and taking part in an illegal gathering.

Brink of collapse

Members and leaders of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which is in coalition with the ANC in running the eThekwini Municipality, took to the streets in support of the striking workers and urged Kaunda to agree to their demands.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said infighting within the ANC was the cause of the strike and called on Kaunda to step down. The party wrote to KZN’s MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Bongi Sithole-Moloi, to intervene with immediate effect to avoid a total catastrophe.

“The eThekwini Municipality is on the brink of collapse,” the DA said. “Crucial service delivery is at an all-time low. Sewage flows freely through our streets and into our rivers and ocean. Refuse lies uncollected in our streets for days, whilst municipal workers embark on illegal strikes, or municipal infrastructure failures impede collection and transport. The electricity grid is severely compromised, and water delivery to many parts of the city is failing on a daily basis.”

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Kaunda apologised to the residents of the city for the mayhem they endured during the strike and said the city had put in place contingency measures to ensure that all basic services were restored.

‘Lowest point’

Bheki Nkwanyana, an academic and columnist for Ilanga newspaper, said the strike revealed many elements about the state of the city.

“This city used to be a vibrant place and a leading tourist attraction. Now most of the shops and businesses in the Durban CBD are owned by foreign nationals because many of the traditional businesses have moved to the malls and other places. Now things will become worse because of worsening crime, filth and lawlessness.

“eThekwini Municipality and Durban city reached its lowest point. I have never seen Durban in such a state. The workers were demanding payment equal to the other big cities. Do they deserve the pay when the city is constantly in such a state? We know the city was devastated by Covid, the July 2021 riots and the floods, which it had not recovered from. This strike was a last straw.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

“There were clear signs that the strike was hijacked by different parties for their own sectional and political ends. Some workers thought that if they trash [and] sabotage infrastructure that serves communities, [it] would make the city ungovernable [and] would quickly bring the city to the negotiating table.”

He noted allegations that the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party had promoted the strike to further its electoral ambitions.

“It is also true that some of the workers had changed allegiance and joined the MK party from the ANC. Obviously, for these workers, the strike gave them [an] opportunity to serve their political ends.

“For a party like MK, the destruction of the city would signal to the voters that the ANC is incapable of governing the city, so there is a need for change. There is no doubt there was also a criminal element who used the strike for their nefarious purposes and they often do this during any upheaval,” he said.

While the MK party has admitted to supporting striking Samwu workers, it denied allegations it was involved in acts of destruction. DM.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • J dW says:

    eThekwini Metro – a circus with lots of clowns and no ringmaster. Same for most municipalities in our beloved cow’n tree.

    • P B M .. says:

      Another “world class African city”. Just like Joburg. I suppose in line with almost all other African cities in Africa, it falls in line with being the perfect $h1t hole…..

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Please don’t tar the Western Cape – apart from Knysna which is slowly collapsing after having had the corrupt and totally incompetent ANC in charge for just 18 months! – with the same brush and which, despite having to accommodate millions of economic refugees from the ANC’s disastrous rule in the Eastern Cape, is doing an absolutely brilliant job.

  • Proudly ZA says:

    Durban, a once beautiful, safe and thriving city…has become a lawless, filthy and workless city. Crime and greed has taken over.

  • Les Thorpe says:

    Durban, once a well run city and the envy of other cities, both locally and internationally, is now a third world cesspit, not much different from Lagos or Mogadishu.

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    Well when you have a mayor (?) who pays himself more than the president you know there is trouble not to forget the 4 R4ml vehicles he recently bought himself its just shocking. As bad as R67ml on a soccer team like PMB and we have serious hassles too KZN is cursed.

  • drew barrimore says:

    Shame. They so badly wanted to be treated as adults….

  • eish Effedup says:

    When a municipality is run by the ANC there is chaos and theft of tax money. Everybody knows by now. So why then do the people vote for them over and over again? Do they not care or are they intellectually challenged or both?

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      I’ve pondered this many times. The only conclusion I can come to is that people are kept so uneducated and are brainwashed. Particularly in the rural areas, where I am convinced tribal leaders are bribed by the ANC to tell their subjects who to vote for. Particularly in KZN. The zulu household gets massively funded every year. I wonder why. Their own tribe should pay for their luxurious lifestyles. Not the tax payer.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    What can we do to help? Vote DA

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Arrest all of them. Deny them bail. Schedule their first court appearance for 2025. Do it with every illegal strike, arrest the union ‘leaders’ and smash the unions once and for all. They don’t care about South Africa or service delivery or job creation, just power: it’s a double edged sword and they need to be brought to justice, swiftly and harshly.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    The stereotype of Durban as we read, is what I assume…..or maybe worse.

  • Respect for Truth says:

    SAMWU can always be relied upon to make a bad situation worse.

  • Winston Bigsby says:

    Viva ANC! Viva EFF! governance in mosheen!!

  • casper van zyl says:

    Exactly the state of affairs that guys like PW Botha, Andries Treurnicht and Eugene Terreblanche warned about !!!
    They were totally correct in their assessments !!!!

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    A wonderful demonstration of African intelligence and African excellence

  • Jacques Labuschagne says:

    Grant Natal independence and abandon it to Zuma and his tribe

  • Rae Earl says:

    Good bye Durban. Once SA’s premier holiday destination vying with Cape Town across the board in facilities, fabulous beaches, accommodation etc. Now even the major hotel groups are pulling out of the city and using their money to upgrade or build new premises in the Western Cape. But not in Knysna, Plett, or George where the ANC/EFF coalitions there are destroying those once magnificent holiday resorts in exactly the same ways as they have done in Durban. Knysna is already trashed after just 18 months under this coalition. This is beyond comprehension and so sad.

  • Rae Earl says:

    How on Earth do you allow people to post suspect advertising in your comments section DM? And how is it possible to then use that rubbish in assessing my suitability to post a comment???

  • ST ST says:

    Last time I went to Durban beaches and CBD, I wanted to cry from disbelief. This was about 15 years ago. Can only imagine now!

    I’m all for fair pay etc. But it must be based on performance. Crucially, for a country deemed the most economically unequal like SA, when you demand higher pay, it reduces the chances the jobs will be created for others. The higher unemployment rises, the higher the crime. It’s a double edged sword. From the government to everyone who wants more pay to buy a Merc when others are starving…think about it.

    In the West, the pay for people in similar positions across different industries is similar. Sometimes there’s not much difference between college/uni educated and not. It’s unfair for the educated but it makes societies more equal.

    UK train drivers strike a lot and usually don’t get a lot of sympathy because their pay is above average of those who went to uni. So Unions can be useful but also selfish and draconian.

  • Steve Cohen says:

    eThekwini Municipality has said that it would take two weeks to address the “backlog” in solid waste collection. Unfortunately the environmental impacts of the strikes will last for many years to come.

    A significant portion of the millions of tons of uncollected solid waste, much of it plastic packaging, has been leaked into the environment through dumping, wind and rain and will never be retrieved. This toxic waste will find its way into the city’s streams, rivers and the ocean.

    Furthermore, the behavior of illegal dumping – which was of epidemic proportions in Durban before the strike – could now become further entrenched as the norm for many businesses and individuals, adding to the city’s spiraling pollution burden.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Are these the “MK workers” that the, Ex mayor who is now in court for fraud and in her spare time canvassing for the ANC employed ?

  • Les Thorpe says:

    For interest, I’ve copied this article to my associates in Texas, California, London and Perth. The international community must be kept informed of “Africa’s most vibrant city” as per the city’s LTDP.

  • John Patson says:

    I was last in Durban in winter of 2008. It much of the old city centre was a nasty, edgy place with whole streets given over to taxis, with shops closed, lots of pavement traders, litter, drunks, shouting and screaming.
    The Joburg tramps, down for the winter, had obviously formed gangs and moved around en masse.
    And behind the security gates and electric fences on the ridge, the sub-tropical gardens were as luxuriant as ever, the climate was frost free, and you got lots of tips about beaches only an hour’s drive away where you did not even need to leave someone to make sure the towels were not pinched while you were swimming…
    Similar to Rio, except in Rio the beach is more or less neutral territory to be enjoyed, not endured.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    eThekwini Municipality and Durban city reached its lowest point ….yet.

    Save your city – vote DA.

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