Municipal strike mayhem

Posted On Tuesday, 18 March 2008 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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More than a hundred striking Nelson Mandela Bay municipal workers spent the night behind bars following a day of chaos which included intimidation, vandalism of municipal buildings and disrupting construction at the 2010 World Cup soccer stadium.

Construction IndustryAmong the 110 people arrested on Sunday was SA Municipal Workers‘ Union provincial chairman David Toyise, who is at the centre of the strike after being dismissed by the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality in January, as well as Samwu branch chairman Nomvula Hadi.

The workers‘ actions – which included throwing down what is believed to be poison in the Eric Tindale and Brister House buildings, vandalising and flooding the Murray & Roberts building, trespassing on the 2010 World Cup stadium building site and halting work there for two hours, as well as barricading the main street in Despatch – has been condemned by the municipality.

The problems started on Sunday when striking members amassed outside the Eric Tindale and Brister House buildings, threatening and intimidating their colleagues who wished to work, with weapons which included knobkieries, shamboks and steel pipes. The Herald also noticed some protesters armed with knives.

One faction then forced their way into both of the major administration buildings, threatening those who were in the offices and forcing them to leave.

Municipal manager Graham Richards said doors, furniture and office equipment, including computers, were smashed.

“Basins were stoppered and taps left running for the purpose of flooding the buildings, while foul smelling concoctions were poured throughout the buildings, causing further damage.”

Richards said the office bearers of Samwu were witnessed taking the lead in this destruction.

The Herald saw extensive damage to the adjacent Murray &Roberts building, where taps in the bathrooms and kitchens from the 4th to the 12th, as well as all emergency fire hoses, were left running, flooding the building.

Municipal documents and general litter was strewn across the floors of the three buildings, while a poisonous smell filled the lifts and passages.

Strikers were also openly hostile towards the media, threatening to beat them and ripping pages out of a journalist‘s notebooks.

A municipal contractor in one of the buildings, who only gave his first name as Moses, said he had inhaled some sort of airborne substance while using a lift in Eric Tindale.

“I immediately started feeling ill and dizzy so I warned a security guard at the door,” he said.

Moses said he rushed home and started vomiting, and his mouth and eyes were dry. He was later told the substance was considered dangerous and he should seek medical assistance.

Protesters then continued to toyi- toyi in Govan Mbeki, waving their weapons in the air and chanting, until members of the police‘s crime combating unit arrived. The protesters then dispersed in a convoy of taxis, which descended on the 2010 stadium, chanting and singing freedom songs.

Port Elizabeth police spokesman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said they used bolt cutters to gain access to the stadium through a locked gate, and disrupted work for at least two hours.

She said the crowd then returned to Brister House at around 3pm, where they began intimidating members of the public, prompting police to respond.

“Police had to deploy three stun grenades, and used rubber bullets and pepper spray to disperse the crowds,” she said.

With the first grenade, striking workers fled in all directions, the police close on their heels, while others collapsed to the ground, shielding themselves from the trampling feet of their fellow strikers.

One woman, who refused to co-operate, was pepper sprayed before being loaded into the back of a police van.

Janse van Rensburg said 82 men and 13 women were arrested and charged with trespassing on the 2010 stadium grounds.

She said the municipality had also laid a number of criminal charges against individual members of Samwu and the union itself ranging from intimidation to breaking and entering and malicious damage to property.

She said one police officer was injured when a striker attacked him with a steel pipe during the arrests.

After the commotion, Govan Mbeki Avenue was littered with personal belongings – shoes, caps, jerseys and even cellphones lay abandoned.

Despatch police spokesman Inspector Marianette Olivier said police and strikers also clashed after they threw rubbish into the main street and blocked traffic.

“The police instructed them to disperse. When they refused, 15 of them were arrested.”

Olivier said Samwu shop stewards had approached the police to try and negotiate their colleagues‘ release, while those arrested toyi-toyied in the holding cells, but their requests were not entertained.

Samwu Eastern Cape provincial secretary Siphiwo Ndunyana issued a terse statement, saying that despite the arrests, the union‘s “Blood on the Floor” campaign against the municipality would continue until their demands were met. These included the reinstatement of Toyise.

The Mbuyiselo Ngwenda District of the SA Communist Party in the Eastern Cape condemned the use of rubber bullets by the police and came out in support of the striking workers, calling on the ANC at all levels to intervene in “the arrogance displayed by the mayor, Nondumiso Maphazi, and Richards”.

The SACP called for both Maphazi and Richards to resign or be dismissed “because they do not have the capacity to lead this municipality”.

Richards, however, said Samwu was deliberately trying to mislead its members.

He accused Samwu representatives of making inflammatory statements against the municipality to the media and its members, based on the municipality‘s dismissal of Toyise.

Richards said Samwu members could not legally use Toyise‘s dismissal as a basis for the strike, which is why they then delivered a strike notice under the guise of dissatisfaction with certain amendments made to the recruitment policy.

“A strike on this basis would be a protected strike but prior to this the municipality has reiterated its willingness to meet on this issue. Samwu has, however, consistently declined to accept that invitation,” he said.

All those arrested are expected to appear in the Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth magistrate‘s court.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 October 2013 19:47

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