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Cape Town - Limping and bleeding after being attacked by striking construction workers in Mitchells Plain, Alan Bissolati says two police officers told him to “f*** off” when he asked them for help on Tuesday.
This is the latest in a series of reports of violent intimidation by striking workers in the city.
Bissolati, who owns a tiling business in Table View, and eight of his workers were assaulted on their way to work at the AZ Berman-R300 intersection soon after 6am.
“My bakkie was stopped at a red light... Next thing these guys just start hitting the vehicle, trying to smash the windscreen with bricks. I got out and they beat one of my workers and me with golf clubs,” said Bissolati.
“I was injured and ran up to two officers sitting in a police car nearby. They told me to ‘f*** off’ because they didn’t want to get involved and risk being attacked.”
Community Safety MEC Dan Plato, who complained about similar reports of police indifference over the weekend, is now calling on the police to bring criminal charges against members who refuse to act against armed and violent strikers.
“I understand that police are sometimes outnumbered, but there is always a recourse for them. It may be as simple as radioing for back-up. Reports of them doing nothing sends a wrong message.”
Members of the two major unions are on a national strike over deadlocked wage talks. Construction workers from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have been on strike for about two weeks. On Monday, motor industry workers and petrol attendants under the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) went on strike.
Many strikers consider people who continue to report for work in their industries as traitors who should be forced into supporting the strike if they do not take part willingly.
Both unions have been quick to distance themselves from the violence. Happiness Holiday, the NUM’s Western Cape general secretary, conceded that preventing workers from reporting for work was part of the union’s strategy.
“But this must always be done peacefully, through persuasion rather than through intimidation,” he said.
Early on Tuesday, striking Numsa members outside the head office of Beekman Canopies in Stikland physically blocked staff from entering the premises and offered them Numsa T-shirts.
Incidents such as this proved that Numsa was breaking the “picketing rules” to which all parties agreed before the strike, said employer representatives Reggie Sibiya, chief executive of the Fuel Retailers Association, and Jakkie Olivier, chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry. The rules say workers cannot be physically blocked from entering their place of work. Employers called on Numsa to discipline their members.
Vuyo Lufele, Numsa’s regional secretary, responded by drawing attention to employers who forced their workers to boycott the strike under threat of dismissal. This is where “the real intimidation” was to be found.
Numsa and employer bodies are to meet for negotiations in Joburg on Wednesday.
NUM negotiator Bhekani Ngcobo said they were waiting for the employers to return with a revised offer before negotiations could resume.
Police spokesman Colonel Thembinkosi Kinana said they had not received any complaints about the incident, but added the police “are guided by rules and a professional conduct that guides all our members, and we condemn such comments. Once we hear of such incidents we don’t hesitate to take action”.
Kinana added it may be difficult to trace the officers because they could be from any police station in the province.