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Hefty R30m a year security escort bill to protect eThekwini Municipality staff in crime hot spots

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Dec 7, 2021

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DURBAN - HIJACKINGS targeting eThekwini Municipality employees has seen the municipality forking out in excess of R30 million each year for private security to escort workers attending to services delivery problems such as water leaks in areas that are “known hot spots”.

Workers in the water unit are among those that have to be escorted when they attend to water leaks, especially in townships.

City officials declined to name the townships that are considered dangerous.

EThekwini head of water Ednick Msweli told The Mercury yesterday that the municipality was spending close to R100m each year protecting staff members, assets and depots.

He said R30m was spent on security companies that escorted workers to fix water leaks among other services.

Msweli said security guards escorted city workers in the water unit and the security was mainly to protect the city’s assets like cars and equipment that are stolen or hijacked when employees are confronted by criminals.

It has emerged that staff members in the electricity unit are also now having to be escorted to job sites because they have also come under attack from criminals.

Msweli said this sorry state of affairs has been ongoing for at least five years.

“There have been many instances where the workers are attacked and the cars are hijacked,” said Msweli.

“It is not just our unit that is affected, there are others that are also affected, it’s not just the R30m in security that is provided to the staff, there is also security that is provided to the depots, so the real cost is close to R90m that is spent on security,” he said.

He said for his unit, they are attacked mainly when they are visiting townships.

“It has gotten to a point whereby it is very difficult to go out at night to fix a burst pipe because of hijackings, we only go out at night with security.”

Msweli said they have reported the matter to council and hope council will come up with a solution.

“This is money that could be going elsewhere (to improve services). This (hijackings) is driven by unemployment, these people see the vehicle and want to take it so they can sell it, they are not intending to use the vehicle,” he said.

Labour unions said it was important to keep workers safe.

Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) said there have been a number of incidents where the workers had been attacked, hijacked and robbed of their tools by the same community that they were trying to assist.

Imatu leader in Durban, Queen Mbatha, said the issue of security of the workers was a concern for the union pointing out that some time ago, two staffers in the parks and recreation who had been on inspection duty, were found shot dead and nothing that belonged to them had been stolen.

Xolani Dube of the South African Municipal workers’ Union said the provision of security for workers had been going on for some time.

“There was a need to provide the workers with the security, we know water is not the only unit, workers in the electricity unit have also been provided with security.”

Political parties in the council said it was important for the community to play its part in protecting assets meant to serve them.

IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said the municipality was left with no choice but to protect its workers and assets.

Nkosi said the solution to the problem can only come from the community if they stand up against criminality and take ownership of the infrastructure that is there to serve them.

“The cars and the equipment that is stolen is meant to service the community and yet in the community, there are people that are attacking the same workers that are there to deliver services,” he said.

“The money that is being spent on security, is money that could be going elsewhere to improve the services for the community,” he said.

DA councillor Nicole Graham said the city needed to assess across the board on what it spends on security as it’s possible it is not getting value for money.

“We pay a lot of money for security, at the end of the day if there is a risk against municipal infrastructure and staff that needs to be addressed, but I think there is a bigger picture here, we spend a lot of money on security, are we getting the best value for what we spending or are there clever and effective ways of doing it,” she said.

THE MERCURY

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