Striking workers need to clean their own mess
The same SAMWU members who caused severe disruptions at the offices of the GTM in Tzaneen last week, now need to cleanup their own mess. Photo: Joe Dreyer

The hostage situation that had Tzaneen at the mercy of a handful of municipal employees for eight days, finally ended on Tuesday, the 17th of November. A week ago, on the 10th of November, the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) embarked on a legal strike in front of the GTM main building in Agatha Street. The workers were demanding to have their leave days encashed and the municipality was not willing to do so citing a document, the Main Collective Agreement, in its defence. The agreement was entered into between SALGA and SAMWU in 2015 and is valid until 2022. (Read the full explanation of the agreement on our website).

This enraged the workers who soon turned to arson and acts of sabotage in an effort to force the municipal manager, Thapelo Matlala, into submission. The following day, on the 11th of November, when the situation escalated to the point where it was no longer safe for the general public and office workers to enter the GTM premises, Matalala approached the Polokwane High Court for an urgent interdict to prevent further destruction of property and interference with the running of administrative tasks by the municipality.

SAMWU Strikers caused chaos
SAMWU strikers brought the municipality to a standstill as they burnt tyres and pallets at the doorstep to the Whitehouse. Photo: Joe Dreyer

The court order was issued to the Tzaneen SAPS station commander, Brig Charles Masinamela, the Vispol commander, Col Baloyi and four members of the SAMWU leadership by the sheriff of the court, Tertius Robertson. The sheriff also read the court order to the SAMWU members gathered at the entrance to the GTM building after which he stuck copies of the document onto a notice board and onto the entrance at the main building. Furthermore, he sent the court order digitally over WhatsApp to all respondents named in the order. He also informed the SAPS Cluster Commander, Brig-Genl Maggie Mathebula of the process.

Following an altercation between the GTM’s security team and the strikers, the acting head of security, Kenneth Makhubela, laid charges of public violence and contravention of a court order against Moses Malatji and Peter Maake whom he identified as instigators. The case number is 137.11.2020 and it was opened on the 11th of November. On the same day, Moses Malatji, the Chairperson of SAMWU, opened a case of fraud and corruption against the Municipal Manager, Thapelo Matlala. Malatji alleged that Matlala committed fraud when he issued tenders for roads projects in 2019 and that he failed to follow due process when he appointed extra security at the GTM offices after an attempt on his life when he cancelled said tenders.

The sheriff of the court, after reading the court order to the protestors over a loudhailer, stuck the document onto the front door of the Greater Tzaneen Municipal offices for all to read.

Despite the court order, and the case against two of the respondents named in the court order, the strike continued. Members of SAMWU were burning tyres and wooden pallets every morning. Many bags of rubbish were strewn all over the premises and a bakkie was seen delivering fresh tyres for the fire in intervals daily. The media was chased away by the Regional Chairperson of SAMWU, Victor Manyama, who is an employee of the municipality and was at the forefront of the protest.

Despite the police being present and capturing some of the action on their cellphones, no arrests were made. The police alleged that the court order was not served on the respondents, while the sheriff provided proof that it had been served.

For the remainder of the week, in the evenings and early mornings, small splinter groups sabotaged the water and electrical grid in and around Tzaneen. In one instance the distribution board providing power to the Pioniers retirement village in Boundary Street was vandalized (the power was switched off and the switch broken) leaving the retirees without power for two days. In this week however, the group crossed the line when they turned off the water pumps at the dam wall leaving Tzaneen without water for two days. Still no arrests were made.

The water pumps could not be turned back on as the municipal workers who were not striking, were being intimidated by those who were. Eventually after an entire day without any water, a private security team lead by Dave Protter, escourted a team of Lepelle Northern Water employees to the pump stations to turn the pumps back on. The reservoir had however run dry and many residents were forced to go an extra day without running water. Still the debate over the court order raged and eventually culminated in a meeting between the SAPS legal team, the Sheriff and the GTM’s legal team. Once the matter had been resolved, the police stated that if the strikers continued with their action, they would arrest the instigators.

The strike ended on Tuesday, the 17th of November when the municipal manager recalled a circular issued by the municipality regarding the leave day encashment. The has not been any bargaining or settlements and the matter has now been referred back to the bargaining council. At the time of going to print (yesterday) there had still not been any arrests.

SAMWU now has to cleanup its own mess
A member of the public had to traverse the minefield of destruction as she made her way to the entrance of the municipal buildings. Photo: Joe Dreyer

We asked police spokesperson Col Moatshe Ngoepe why no arrests had been made even after the instigators were named and a case opened against them, and even after the case was opened against them, they continued to contravene the court order. “Police investigations are continuing” was his response.

When Bulletin contacted SAPS Cluster Commander, Brig Maggie Mathebula, in the midst of the strike after the court order was issued, to ask her why the police have not dispersed the strikers or arrested those starting fires and damaging property, her response was “why are you asking me these questions? Did you see me at the strike? You must contact the communications department and speak with the station commander.”

***To summarize: There was a legal strike which turned into arson, public violence and sabotage by municipal workers who are members of the workers union SAMWU. A court order was issued and a case was opened against them. The police arrested nobody because they alleged that the court order had not been correctly served on the SAMWU members and the two men against whom the case was opened have not been arrested at the time of going to print as police investigations were continuing.

Bulletin wanted to know why a court order was needed in the first place, for the police to ensure the safety of members of the public and other non-striking municipal employees. We will also attempt to gain clarity from SAMWU’s leadership as to why they started the strike over leave encashment, but then turned to accusing the municipal manager of fraud and corruption over a case that was dealt with extensively a year ago. In fact, the roads projects SAMWU were apparently concerned about, was already heard in the high court and the ruling was in favour of the municipality who then cancelled the tender and re-advertised the project. Last year, this was the same union who attempted to have Matala removed from office, citing reasons including “he is too bossy”.