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“Wave of protest action sweeps Boven & Machado”

In recent weeks, an increasing storm of protest action has rolled across Waterval Boven and Machadodorp – apparently in a drive to gain employment for disenfranchised and unemployed local residents from a number of local businesses. The organisers of this rolling mass action – who refer to themselves as “concerned local residents” – have the backing and active participation of both local ANC representatives as well as the Emakhazeni Local Municipality (ELM) in their drive to attain their stated goals. This is despite the fact that the numerous demonstrations have proven to be increasingly disruptive – with reports of damage to ELM property being received by THG, as well as demonstrators endangering the lives of motorists travelling the N4 by barricading the route with blazing tyres and rocks on at least one occasion.

Whereas the stated goals of the organisers are indeed admirable in seeking jobs for locals, from local businesses, what is definitely not admirable are the escalating levels of aggression and violence employed, seemingly, as the “default setting” in these on-going protests. The three companies that are (primarily) being targeted by the demonstrators are Transnet, Nkomati and Trac. In a recent interview, THG was able to ascertain from a number of the organisers of the protest action who stated that “…local residents are not being given preference for jobs.” The organisers went on to state that they were particularly upset that “…outsiders, especially foreigners…” were being given preference over local job seekers.

The veracity of these statements – one way or the other – have not, at time of going to print, been commented on by either Transnet or Nkomati. Trac, however, has responded to questions regarding its employment policy in this regard. In an e-mail received by THG, Ms. Adri Fourie, Employee Benefits & HR Manager for Trac stated the following: “In terms of our contract with SANRAL, it is clearly stipulated that local communities should benefit from employment. Accordingly, with the exception of the Toll Plaza manager, who resides in Belfast, all workers employed at the Machado Toll Plaza reside in either Waterval Boven or Machadodorp.” Should the truth of this statement by be brought into question, Ms. Fourie went on to offer THG the opportunity, if required, via the offices of an independent auditor, to conduct interviews with random Plaza employees to establish their residential addresses and to further, on request, make available to THG, HR and selected payroll information which would conclusively prove local residence of all Machado toll Plaza employees. With the exception of one grass-cutting team, workers employed in routine road maintenance contracts reside in either Elandshoek, Machadodorp or Waterval Boven. Grass-cutting work was previously – at the request of local residents – allocated to residents of Machadodorp. Owing to their subsequent non-performance, this work was subsequently undertaken by other local residents.
Despite Trac’s openness, its conciliatory position and willingness to hold meetings with the organisers and to receive a memorandum stating their requirements, it was nonetheless THG’s distinct displeasure to be present at a recent meeting held at the Machado Toll Plaza between Trac’s Ms. Marlies Dreyer, representatives from both Nkomati and Transnet, protest organisers - as well as local ANC and ELM representatives - which was openly hostile and aggressive. So much so that the THG reporter, despite being an impartial observer and present at the specific invitation of Trac senior management, was threatened, repeatedly insulted and ultimately, forced to leave the proceedings in an attempt to defuse an extremely volatile and explosive situation.

THG has been assured that there are more protests to come and residents of both Waterval Boven and Machadodorp should be prepared for further disruptions before the multiple issues at stake have been resolved. So far, the SAPS have been quick to react to signs of trouble and virtually all demonstrations to date have been quickly quashed and demonstrators dispersed with minimal violence. This, however, is not likely to be the case for much longer – given the level of arrogance, intractability and hostility displayed by both organisers and protestors – as well as, seemingly, the tacit acquiescence and active support for the protest action shown by local government and political stakeholders.
In closing, it is interesting to note that, from a broad-perspective/overview point of view, this entire protest action should, at least technically, not be happening at all. According to the humongous 237-page Integrated Development Plan (IDP) first put out by ELM in 2011 and subsequently revised in 2013 (a copy of which is in THG’s possession), unemployment in Emakhazeni is not a problem. According to ELM, the unemployment rate in Emakhazeni was only 25.92% in 2011. Further to this, page 37 of this epistle, in the paragraph on unemployment, it is clearly stated: “Employment opportunities are favourable in the municipality, particularly for males, about 80% of males and 66% of females were employed in 2011”. If this low unemployment rate and corresponding high rate of employment is anywhere near the truth, it begs the question as to exactly why, barely two short years later, the local unemployment situation is “all of a sudden” so catastrophically dire as to warrant this vehement outbreak of protest action…?    

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