Four members of the Simunye Workers Forum and bystanders were shot on Saturday afternoon after a meeting with the owner of a bakery in Germiston, east of Johannesburg.
The Simunye Workers Forum (SWF) says that what was a peaceful demonstration and a cordial engagement with the employer ended in bloodshed on the weekend as the employer unleashed his trigger happy security guards on the union members. Four were shot and lie in hospital, two of whom are fighting for their lives in intensive care while the other two are critical and stable. One of the injured is a board member of the Casual Workers Advisory Office (CWAO), a labour rights organisation in Germiston that is working closely with SWF and share mutual interest.
On Saturday afternoon, Simunye Workers Forum, fresh from their historic court case win to be recognised as a union, was requested by the employees of the Golden Bakery Store in Germiston to intervene on their behalf regarding some unfair labour practices taking place in their workplace. The marchers according to SWF were with their children to demonstrate how peaceful this encounter was.
“These guys are not even trained security guards. They are the inkabis [hitmen] hired and paid protection fees by unscrupulous employers to guard their shops in the Germiston CBD. They are not a company and they don’t wear uniforms. We hope the police will use the CCTV footage to reveal them. We also saw them,” says one of the union members who asked to remain anonymous to protect his life. He says he nearly lost his life when he tried to confront these men.
“We arrived peacefully and hoping the employer will hear us out. He was very arrogant and dismissive. He threatened to kill us but eventually he relented. It was four of us delegated to speak to him while the rest of us remained outside. After having an impression that he is sorting our demands. We went outside to brief our members. Suddenly there were gunshots. Our members were being shot at, including bystanders.”
He adds that the Golden Bakery is notorious for hiring foreign nationals as cheap labour and when they try to speak out he threatens them with dismissal and deportation. Others, he says, have been working for the company for many years and they don’t have any benefits as stipulated in labour law.
“This is a litmus test of what awaits us in this struggle for our members. What is more shocking and brazen is how this attack took place in full view of the patrons and the employees of this bakery. Remember there are other shops around here that we are also targeting for unfair labour practices. I think since they saw what happened to us they’ll also want to employ the same strategy to deter us. We are extremely scared now, that’s true. We will have to find a way. We can’t give up. There are a lot of mechanisms in law to take this fight up,” says another member of the union.
Detailing the account of this horror and the seriousness of the wounds, in a joint statement, CWAO and SWF say of all the people injured, one was shot in the back and in the hand, one in the buttock, while another has shrapnel lodged in his brain and a fourth was brought to the hospital unconscious. They say the ambulance took too long to come but fortunately they were assisted by the police who were patrolling nearby.
This is SWF’s third encounter in the last couple of weeks where there has been violence or a threat thereof. The previous two incidents, according to CWAO, were when thugs emerged from Liwayway Food offices and surrounded and threatened a CWAO organiser who had arrived for a meeting; and at Chint Global Energy company in Germiston, where some of the workers were organising and the worker leader was threatened with a knife. They say this current incident has deeply traumatised and distressed workers and activists.
When asked for a statement, the owner of Golden Bakery, Joe Ferreira denied the shooting had anything to do with him and said he was not at the shop when the shooting happened. “I heard there was a commotion outside my shop and that led to the shooting. Not at my shop but at the tavern near my shop,” he says without divulging more details whether his business had any engagement on Saturday with the union or not. His son Nicolas, who is believed to have ordered the guards to shoot at the activists, did not pick up his phone.
Germiston police could make no statement, only that Captain Sekgobela is not aware of the incident and needs time to gather more details.