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“Wave of protest action sweeps Boven & Machado”

Residents across the four towns that make up the Emakhazeni Local Municipality (ELM) are fed up. They are also up to their ears in uncollected rubbish and are tired of dealing with on-going problems regarding, sewage, water supplies, etc. as the strike action by ELM workers drags on. But - not nearly as fed up as the strikers…

It has been a number of weeks since workers first downed tools and went on strike to demand that they receive the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) promised to them by municipal bosses. This PPE is not only essential in enabling the workers to carry out their various duties properly, it is also vital from a health and safety viewpoint. Not to mention that the wearing and usage of the appropriate PPE is required in terms of many sections of SA’s labour legislation. Just imagine if you were a worker at the sewage works and your employer failed to provide you with a mask or a pair of gloves – yet still required of you that you carry out your duties. Or you were a cleaner without goggles or a pair of gumboots and you were nonetheless told to “do your job” regardless. Various sources have informed THG that promises have been made and broken and that excuses are “a dime a dozen.” Yet the strike drags on – seemingly without and end in sight.

The strike action had, until recently, been reasonably amicable – under the circumstances. This all ended on Thursday 24 April when protesting workers decided they had “had enough”, were “tired of waiting” and marched on ELM offices in Belfast to demand that their grievances be addressed by ELM officials. When the angry strikers arrived, they demanded that officials “come out” of the buildings and answer their questions. When their demands were ignored, the angry strikers began pelting the buildings with stones and many windows, etc. were broken. As the situation escalated and frightened ELM employees refused to leave the relative safety of their offices, strikers threatened to “burn down the buildings” in order to confront ELM officials. Fortunately, SAPS Belfast were quickly on scene to defuse the tense stand-off and prevent any further damage to property.

In late breaking news further afield, THG has received additional reports that, on Thursday 24 & Friday 25 April, municipal workers in Waterval Boven & Machadodorp vented their anger by trashing the towns and strewing the streets with rubbish. It was further reported that electrical power and water supply infrastructure was further sabotaged and subsequently illegally disconnected to many homes and businesses in Boven & Machado by the same workers. Business owners and residents are furious and tempers are rising on both sides. Boven & Machado, like other towns within ELM, have now become powder-kegs with matters poised to escalate beyond control at any point if ELM does not take urgent steps to defuse the volatile situation.

THG has been reliably informed that – firstly - the reason for this new aggressive stance is that striking workers had discovered that five RDP households in nearby Siyathuthuka had been given furniture and appliances (allegedly) by ELM in the preceding week. The reasons for this largesse are unknown but, according to DA Constituency Chairperson, Ernst van den Bergh in a telephonic interview with THG, the furniture, etc. was “Buying votes for the ANC in the upcoming general elections – plain and simple!” Said one angry striker – who declined to be identified: “They (ELM) have got a lot of money for furniture for their friends but they cannot even give us the stuff we need to do our jobs!” Secondly, and seemingly the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, was when striking workers were informed by ELM officials that ELM had adopted a policy of “no work, no pay” and, accordingly, workers would not be paid for the six weeks that they have been on strike. The cat was now most definitely among the pigeons!

Despite the rising anger of residents, there is also a great deal of sympathy for the affected workers who have, basically, been left with no other real choice but resorting to strike action in order to get that which has, repeatedly, been promised them. On the “smelly side” - owing to the growing health risks posed by mountains of uncollected garbage - many residents have, in sheer frustration, resorted to taking their own refuse to various dump sites – at their own expense. It will be interesting to see the hardening of attitudes amongst residents when it comes time to pay municipal bills for “services rendered” when, in fact, the reality is that there has been “no service” – period. THG is prepared to bet that there will be no rebates, no negotiations and, more than likely, no apologies either. At time of going to press, the strike remained unresolved.

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