Durban - The Durban city hall came to a standstill on Monday afternoon when the City’s water and waste water employees stormed the facility in song, demanding to meet the City’s administrative and political leadership.
The more than 100 workers marched up to the mayor’s parlour, disrupting a special executive committee meeting which was about to be wrapped up.
The meeting was held in the absence of mayor Zandile Gumede, and it was not clear where she was at the time.
The protesters’ bone of contention was the city’s “lack of interest” in attending to their demand to have their salary levels elevated from grade 4 to grade 10 - the same level that some Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) members were promoted to within a year of serving the department as general assistants.
“If they think we’ll let go, they have something coming. They can’t increase certain people’s salaries from R9000 (level 4) to over R20000 (level 10), and when we want the same, they come up with stories. These people have no experience and most of us are more experienced, yet we are at the lower levels.
“We have seen that they are not interested in accommodating our grievances, yet when the veterans stormed the same facility last year, jobs were made available for them,” said one of the employees on the sidelines of the chanting and singing in front of the mayor’s office.
Shop stewards were later allowed through the glass doors into the mayor’s parlour, where they were said to have met city manager Sipho Nzuza. The rest of the group sang their way down to the first floor, where they continued singing.
The storming of the city hall by disgruntled groups is not new. In April last year, the veterans stormed the facility, demanding jobs.
The mayor reportedly instructed the city’s human resources section to make posts available for members who had previously applied for jobs in the city.
More than 80 veterans were awarded jobs in the Water and Sanitation, Roads and Stormwater Maintenance, and Parks and Recreation departments. There are 750 MKMVA members in Durban out of the reported 20000 in KZN.
A municipality source said this was “a blunder”; the city should have an- ticipated this when awarding jobs and giving increments to the veterans.
“To undo this mess will be very complicated. The protesting workers are within their rights, but the ugly thing is that ratepayers are affected in the process. They (management) should have seen this coming, because people are not stupid.”
Mthunzi Gumede, the mayor’s spokesperson, said the group went to the parlour looking for Nzuza. “They knew he was at the parlour; that’s why they went there.”
Gumede would not comment on the lax security at the city hall.
Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said MKMVA members in eThekwini had been making demands because they felt entitled. “The city will tell you it doesn’t have money to meet all its obligations to its citizens, so where does this money (to pay veterans) come from? I’ve said before that whatever demands are made by the veterans should be fairly assessed.
“What political benefit this will have remains to be seen, because we don’t know whether this is one way of appeasing a certain group for that purpose (benefiting).”
DA caucus leader Nicole Graham said: “I’m more worried about getting this problem resolved. The course of action taken by the workers is a problem, but they do have a legitimate grievance and this whole situation has been created by the mayor and by the political powers of the municipality. Until they reverse this ridiculous decision to elevate people - and it’s illegal, from grade 4 to grade 10 - this saga is going to continue.
“It’s not nice that people burst through the doors of the city hall during a meeting, but at the same time if that’s the only way that people can hold the mayor accountable, then that’s why people are doing it. The city is stalling, and there has been no resolution and communities are suffering.”
Graham added that the disgruntled staff had started sabotaging sewage pump stations and things could get worse if the strike was not resolved.
The IFP’s Mdu Nkosi said there should be a report on how the city was planning to resolve the strike, and a set time frame.
Nzuza and the shop stewards were still in their meeting at the time of publication.