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ELM chaos – Municipality under fire from all sides

Click here to view video footage of the interview with the Mayor

Video 1 - Plans going forward to handle 2015 strikes

Video 2 - Decisive measures to be taken by ELM management on strikers

Video 3 - Workers want to take over ELM management

Video 4 - Talks about the power struggle in ELM

Video 5 - Talks about Lucas Sindane


The Emakhazeni Local Municipality (ELM) is in an ever-escalating state of chaos – and the breaking point is near. Throughout the four towns within ELM municipal boundaries (Belfast, Dullstroom, Machadodorp & Waterval Boven),crumbling infrastructure, poor or non-existent service delivery, on-going and violently destructive industrial action, ever-dwindling revenue collection, huge Eskom debt, a fatally flawed property valuation roll and a threatened rates boycott by ELM ratepayers are only some of the problems faced by the beleaguered powers-that-be in Belfast.

And if all of this on-going turmoil is not enough, the recently appointed ELM Technical Services Manager, Mr. Lucas “Quick-draw Mc.Graw” Sindane, recently chose to deal with some of his disgruntled workers by producing a firearm and shooting at them…

The full story of this bizarre sideshow in the overall tragic melodrama that has become the norm. in ELM’s tale of woe is indicative of just how bad things have become in Belfast. THG readers will well remember the crippling municipal workers strike in the middle of 2014. For weeks, workers embarked upon a series of violent demonstrations because they had not been supplied with promised (by the Technical Services dept.) protective clothing and equipment. One mountain out of one molehill later, the promised gear belatedly arrived. However, because ELM enforced a “no work, no pay” clause, the workers’ anger was merely deferred, not defused. No sooner had things got back to “normal” than ELM chose (in a “secret” closed-session council meeting) to (illegally) appoint an under-qualified Mr. Sindane to the position of Technical Services Manager – at a monthly salary of R56 852.75, for a period of five years (total R3 411 165). In short order, the already aggrieved workers in Mr. Sindane’s department got wind of the details of his appointment and promptly went on strike again in an attempt to have him removed from his position. It was reported to THG in interviews with striking workers that they not only felt that his salary was exorbitant and un-earned but that he was “autocratic and arrogant” as well.

This second strike was provisionally suspended after a few weeks when ELM officials allegedly agreed to place Sindane on suspension whilst charges against him were investigated and served him with an official letter to that effect. It has been reported that Sindane, true to form, allegedly refused to accept or sign for the letter and nonetheless remained in office. The uneasy truce lasted until Friday 19 December when workers found out that ELM had once again adopted a “no work, no pay” approach to labour relations and salary deductions had again been made for the days when they were on strike. Enraged, workers stormed ELM’s Belfast offices and demanded to see Sindane – who responded to their demands by shooting at them. At this point, workers went beserk and attacked Sindane – disarming him in the process. It was reported that the shot went wide and that no-one was injured. Sindane’s injuries at the hands of the furious workers were not confirmed. Subsequent to the incident, workers handed over Sindane’s firearm to the Belfast SAPS and laid a formal charge of illegally discharging a firearm against him. Sindane has responded in turn by laying charges of assault against those who attacked him in his office.

Individual ELM ratepayers and groups such as EGGF have now resorted to higher authorities such as Mpumalanga Premier, David Mabuza, Pravin Gordhan, Minister for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Nhlanhla Nene, Minister of Finance and even the State President J.G. Zuma himself – to date, without relief. However, despite the silence from ELM’s political bosses, ELM’s embattled Mayor, Clr. X.S. Ngwenya, granted THG an exclusive and candid Christmas Eve interview to answer a number of frank questions as to the “way forward” for ELM.

THG: Good morning Mr. Mayor and thank you for your time. What is the situation with the on-going strike within ELM and what is being done to resolve the issue?
Mayor: Thank you for the opportunity to address some of the concerns of the community. ELM management has taken a firm decision – with the full support of the council – to take decisive and immediate action to end the strike and restore order in ELM. The lawless behaviour and the refusal of the strikers to follow established legal and labour practice procedures – in terms of their conditions of employment - will no longer be tolerated. Accordingly, the striking workers have, today [Wed. 24 Dec.] been issued with a final instruction to return to work next week. Should they defy this final instruction, the Municipal Manager, Ms. Shoba will immediately take steps, in terms of existing labour law, to terminate their employment.

THG: Whereas ELM citizens will, I am sure, applaud the political will apparent in the implementation of such a final step, how do you see the effect on already struggling service delivery in ELM in the new year?
Mayor: It will be tough but, ultimately, the community will benefit as a whole when order is restored to ELM.

THG: It is to be expected that the strikers are not going to take this firm step very well. What plans, if any, have been put in place to counter any outbreaks of violence and/or sabotage of municipal infrastructure – as has happened in the past?
Mayor: During our meeting yesterday [Tues. 23 Dec.], the SAPS in all four towns within ELM assured council that violence and lawlessness will not be tolerated. Any person engaging in illegal acts will be severely dealt with. I am confident that the SAPS will fully support ELM management in the implementation of these measures to prevent further violence and destruction.

THG: It would seem, at least for now, that concrete steps are finally being taken to resolve this on-going labour problem – and its severe impact on service delivery. I am sure ratepayers will be glad to hear that. Another question of course are the growing concerns voiced by organisations such as the EGGF over ELM’s growing debt to Eskom. What is the situation there? Are we going to be cut off – like Thaba Chweu?
Mayor: As of last month’s SALGA meeting, ELM is in good standing with Eskom. They are happy with us. We are, apart from a few isolated cases, meeting our obligations to Eskom and paying them R200 000 per day. Owing to the recent disruptions which have impacted on ELM revenue collection, we will have fallen a little behind by January and we will have to make renewed efforts with Eskom – but we do not have a problem with Eskom.

THG: I see our time is almost up Mr. Mayor. Do you have any message for the citizens of ELM with regard to challenges we will face in 2015?
Mayor:  We look forward to a stable 2015 in which we are able to return to implementing maintenance and infrastructure plans which were, to some extent, derailed in 2014, and bringing them to fruition. I call the new year “20-fit-in” and call on the entire community of ELM to work together to improve all of our lives.


 

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