SAMWU strike brings Cape Town to a standstill

SAMWU workers marching past the city hall. Picture by Mzi Velapi.
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

About 6,000 municipal workers took to the streets of Cape Town to hand over a memorandum demanding better working conditions and treatment of workers at the depot by managers. Organized by the South African Municipal Workers Union, SAMWU, the strike was marked by a heavy police presence. SAMWU has in the past complained that they are targeted by the police and the City and that this provokes the protestors.

SAMWU workers marching past the city hall. Picture by Mzi Velapi.

SAMWU’s regional chairperson, Lennox Bonile, said that they were not surprised by the heavy police presence, as “it is a norm these days for employers to use the brute force of the riot squad on peaceful marchers.” Bonile also condemned the City of Cape Town for provoking the protestors. The City had put out a statement the previous day calling for SAMWU to “abide by the picketing rules.” When the march was about to start from Keizersgracht, the striking workers made it clear, after they heard from their leaders that nothing has changed since they met with the City, that they were not going to follow the strike route that was agreed upon by the conveners of the protest and the police.

The workers sent the street traders into a panic as they marched down Strand Street. The street traders were scared that their goods would be looted. The police used stun grenades to try to disperse the crowd but the determined marchers went ahead and along the way tripped bins and construction equipment. The marshals were urging the protestors not to loot from street vendors and at one point they formed a human chain to protect street vendors’ stock. But not all protestors heeded the call of the shopstewards as some stole from street vendors.

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Outside of the Civic Centre the workers demanded to speak to the Mayor, Patricia de Lille, who eventually came out to address the workers. SAMWU’s regional secretary, Michael Khumalo, handed the memorandum to the Mayor. Khumalo told the crowd that the issues that they are raising are not new as they are leftovers from the memorandum that they handed in last year.

“The main issue that has not been resolved is the issue of racist victimization of workers and an anti-union atitude of line managers in various depots across the metro,” said Khumalo to roaring applause.

According to the union they want the issue of transport for workers resolved among other things. In her response, Patricia de Lille promised the workers that she was going to have a transport policy for workers who qualify for it to be standardized.

“Currently, there is no transport policy in place, departments have their own policies, but I think it is about me that it is standardized to benefit those who qualify,” said De Lille. She also made it clear that pregnant fire fighters would get full maternity benefits.

Speaking to the media later, De Lille admitted that the city, especially the administration department has not resolved the issues that the unions raised in 2014 and that she had to intervene herself to make sure that the outstanding issues between the union and the city are resolved.

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