A municipal worker was killed when hundreds of striking Tshwane municipal workers clashed with police in a running street battle in Pretoria.
The violence erupted on Thursday when city law enforcers refused to allow South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) members, who had gathered at the Tshwane Metro bus depot, to march through the city.
Tensions exploded when Samwu members, singing struggle songs, refused to disperse and tried to force their way down Church Street towards Church Square.
Workers, who assaulted a policeman, striking him repeatedly on the head, and threw a large stick at a group of metro policemen, were shot at with rubber bullets by police defending their colleagues.
Community safety spokesman, William Baloyi, who confirmed the incident, said on Thursday it was not clear how the worker was killed.
“This is a very unfortunate and regrettable situation,” said Baloyi.
He said the cause of death would be investigated through the relevant law enforcement agencies, including the Independent Complaints Directorate.
“It is not clear whether the worker was hit by an object during the fracas. This will only be clear after investigations have been completed,” said Baloyi.
Motorists, who were trying to make their way past the strikers, were caught up in the violence, with several being intimidated and cars stoned.
As motorists frantically tried to escape, police charged at the strikers, shooting at them repeatedly as they tried to escape along Church Street, past Heroes’ Acre cemetery and into DF Malan Drive.
Dozens of protesters, who were caught up against the cemetery’s palisade fencing, were shot at as they fought the police, while others who fled down DF Malan Drive were cornered and arrested.
Several women motorists could be seen cowering over the front seats of their cars crying as police beat strikers that they had caught next to their vehicles.
Protesters, who claimed that they had the necessary authority to march, accused the police of brutality saying that the attack had been unprovoked. “We are allowed to be here. We have a certificate which says we can strike and march. If we did not, why did the police not arrest us when we first gathered?” asked Oupa Monama.
Monama, who works for the city’s waste management services, said the police were bullies and criminals.
“They are thugs. They should be locked up and the key thrown away,” he added.
Asked if it was right to intimidate motorists, Monama said they should not have been there.
“We had the right to march.
“The road was ours and we wanted to use it to voice our anger over what the city is doing to us,” he said.
Monama said they were angry over the fact that workers were not being given permanent jobs.
“We were promised after the last protest action that contract members would be made permanent, but they have not been.
“Instead, the city either extends the contracts or terminates them and fires the workers. This is unacceptable and we will not accept this,” he said.
Patrick Joua, who works at the metro bus depot, said they wanted their demands met.
“We want jobs and we want them now,” he said.
Another striker, who asked not to be named, said they were tired of council’s broken promises about permanent jobs.
“We are promised permanent jobs, but instead they keep people on contracts with no benefits and then fire them when they no longer need them.
“We now want what we were promised and we want it now,” said the man.
Council spokesman Console Tleane said the unions’ demands were met and agreed upon by management and a written communication with an undertaking was forwarded to the unions “as confirmation of what was agreed upon during the discussion that ended on the Tuesday”.
Tleane said the unions marched on Munitoria last Friday and delivered a memorandum of demands, “which contradicted what they initially presented to the management”.
“Labour shifted the goal posts in that they introduced new matters that were not included in their first submission on February 22, 2011.
“The CoT (City of Tshwane) sent reminders to the two unions to respond to the report of February 24, 2011, and specifically requested an indication as to whether they are continuing with the strike action or not,” said Tleane. - Pretoria News