Durban - A shop steward from the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) narrowly escaped with his life when fellow union members attacked him on Monday.
The attack happened as more than 3 000 Samwu members gathered at Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban for a feedback meeting with council officials on the conditions of service dispute.
In September, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the workers, which meant that the council had to revert to conditions of service that were in place before new conditions were implemented in 2007, when municipal entities merged.
The council has been working on a solution, as some workers were owed money and leave as a result of the changes.
After the meeting, the fired-up crowd moved on to Dr Pixley KaSeme (West) Street, where they emptied bins and blocked roads.
The workers were enraged when Durban mayor James Nxumalo told them the conditions of service matter would be discussed only next Thursday.
“We acknowledge that people have to be paid, and we look at whether we have the budget and how much needs to be paid. We can’t take a decision without exco (executive committee),” he said.
Nxumalo told the crowd that they were just appealing for more time.
Electricity department employee Sifiso Ransom Hlongwa sparked chaos when he pulled out a gun after “losing his temper” at the mayor’s comments.
When union members saw the gun, they went straight for Hlongwa and started beating him with whatever they could find. He was kicked repeatedly.
It took a few minutes before police freed him. Police officers pointed weapons at the crowd.
Hlongwa was whisked away to a police vehicle, where he was attended to by Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo and exco members.
Owing to the volatile situation, the mayor and his entourage had to use a back route out of the stadium.
Samwu provincial secretary Jaycee Ncanana said Hlongwa was known to have a short temper.
“His conduct gives the union a bad name. We will have internal disciplinary measures against him,” he said.
Some suggested, however, that Hlongwa was trying to protect the mayor from other union members.
The union’s regional secretary, Nhlanhla Nyandeni, said it was unfortunate that people would only get benefits for three years and not seven years, as they had expected.
He also said members who had leave owed to them wanted to sell it, but the municipality was only willing to pay 50 percent.
Mayoral spokesman Sthe Mshengu said they had taken note of the incident and the disruptions in the city centre.
“Members of the executive committee will tonight (Monday night) have a special meeting to resolve the matter. The results will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday),” he said.
The municipality said on Monday: “Since the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled on the matter, the municipality has been engaged with labour on how the decision of the court should be implemented.
“The negotiations have resulted in agreements on most of the issues by all the parties concerned.
“Today, labour decided to embark on an unlawful and violent protest action.
“The municipality is committed to finding an amicable solution, and to that end, negotiations are under way with the provincial and National Treasury and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.”