Johannesburg - South Africa’s biggest municipal union was at war on Wednesday as union leaders’ bodyguards punched, teargassed and opened fire on ordinary members at the Joburg head office.
According to those attacked, the bodyguards were stationed at the entrance of the head office of the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) to stop them from entering the building.
This follows the union’s national office-bearers (NOBs) announcing earlier this week that it will suspend more members who they believe are sowing divisions in Samwu.
About 40 members and leaders have already been suspended.
The union is rent down the middle over allegations that R136 million has disappeared from its coffers because of dodgy dealings.
While the NOBs claim nothing is amiss, a group calling itself Save Our Samwu (SOS) is demanding a forensic audit to prove that the money has been misappropriated.
One of the leaders attacked on Wednesday was the union’s Gauteng deputy secretary, Nomfezo Mdingi.
“We came to work this morning and were forced out of the building. I was manhandled by three of them and pepper-sprayed,” she said.
“We were here on Tuesday and asked for duplicate keys for our offices.
“This is what they intended to do all along.
“This is a deliberate act. They hired people to come and assault us.”
She said around 20 shop stewards were meant to have a meeting at the offices, but none of them were allowed in.
“The NOBs are accountable for those missing millions. There is a case going to court on September 15 and it will separate the boys from the men, the truth tellers from the liars,” Mdingi said.
When they arrived in the morning, the shop stewards were told to leave the premises. A fight then broke out between them and the bodyguards. Some of the shop stewards threw bricks, and the guards retaliated with pepper spray.
Although the group called police to the scene, the guards refused to allow them in to Samwu’s offices.
Mdingi said she would open a case against those who assaulted her. Another three union members were also hurt in the fight.
SOS had questions about the bodyguards being used to attack union members when they were allegedly being financed by Samwu.
“Samwu shop stewards and members own the head office. They have paid for it. It is not the private property of a discredited national leadership. However members’ subscriptions are also being used without any authority by the Samwu NOBs to fund aggressive bodyguards and private paramilitary security,” said SOS spokesman Sello Selepe.
In reaction, Samwu general secretary Walter Theledi said Mdingi had been expelled. But SOS has interdicted the union from carrying out expulsions or suspensions.
“The matter will be heard at the South Gauteng High Court later this month.
He claimed that although he was at work on the sixth floor, he did not know about the fight outside the building.
But he did say the group was not there for union business.
“They were not here to deal with internal union matters. They came to harass. It is unacceptable behaviour.”
The police said they were investigating the incident.