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ELM – Strike Two!

It has been barely five months since Emakhazeni Local Municipality (ELM) workers finally got back to work again after a protracted strike which saw widespread destruction, violence and intimidation. Not to mention the huge disruption in service delivery to the long-suffering residents of the four towns within ELM’s boundaries. And now, in late November, here we go again, with ± 400 municipal workers once again having downed tools.

And, in the well-worn tradition of labour disputes in South Africa, the supposedly non-violent strike has already turned nasty after barely a week. Reports of multiple incidents of vandalism, sabotage and destruction of municipal infrastructure and equipment are pouring in – with the resultant widespread disruption in both water and electricity supplies. Peripheral service delivery has also, once again, ground to a halt and residents are having to fend for themselves by removing their own refuse, etc. In many instances, residents and ratepayer associations in all four towns have resorted to hiring private contractors to carry out essential repairs at their own cost.

In Belfast, particularly, residents have been very outspoken and THG has received a number of reports of a situation that has, in many instances, reached crisis proportions. One angry resident reported: “We have not had water in our taps for days. We were told that, if we wanted water, we had to go and fetch it ourselves from the water tanker in Siyathuthuka!” Another caller reported that the “Belfast reservoir was dry” and that the pumps were non-functional – further adding

hat the private contractor that had attended to the same pumps on a previous occasion, had refused to help again when contacted as, according to them, they had still not been paid by ELM for the last call-out. Fortunately, in a late-breaking piece of news, it has been brought to THG’s attention that, as ELM “did not have the money” to pay for a new water pump, local company, Exxaro, have stepped in and supplied a R230 000 pump to ensure the immediate resumption of water supplies to the town. (A great big “thank you” to Exxaro from Belfast residents and THG alike. Well done! – Ed.)

When THG interviewed a number of strikers recently to find out the reasons behind this latest action, workers were keen to tell all. One worker, who did not wish to be identified said: “It is very simple. These people [ELM] do not want to listen to us. When we talk, they just give us excuses. This man Sindane [ELM Technical Services Manager – Lucas Sindane] must go!” she said, vehemently. “This man [Sindane] treats us very bad and when we complain, he just suspend a person.

Some people have even been fired for not agreeing with him. He must go, and also the MM [Municipal Manager] is very bad. We are tired of these people.”

If what happened during the previous strike is anything to go by, the powers-that-be at ELM will, in all likelihood, continue to fiddle while Rome burns and do nothing until the situation (just like the last time) spirals out of control- with the municipal offices being trashed by a large, angry mob who stood outside the building and threatened to “burn municipal employees” who were cowering under their desks in the beleaguered building, if they did not come out and address the workers’ grievances.

This chaotic situation within ELM cannot continue for much longer. Something has got to give. Residents are gatvol and paying close attention to calls from organisations such as the Emakhazeni Good Governance forum (EGGF) for a rates boycott – not to mention a complete rejection of the fatally flawed (and technically illegal) valuation roll. If such drastic steps are taken, the municipality, which is already, financially speaking, on its knees, is finished. Chaos will reign and the ANC-led municipality could well get a nasty surprise in the next election. Hey, can a different bunch of politicians and bureaucrats possibly do a worse job than that which has already been done? Does it matter who they are? Or does it just matter that they do the job that they are paid to do and serve the tax-paying citizens of ELM? Gee… That’s a tough one… Let me think…

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