Infrastructure damage claims made amid eThekwini municipal strike

An unmarked refuse collection truck, which is escorted by a Metro police vehicle, picks up refuse bags in the Durban CBD on Sunday. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

An unmarked refuse collection truck, which is escorted by a Metro police vehicle, picks up refuse bags in the Durban CBD on Sunday. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 4, 2024


Security personnel have been deployed to protect key infrastructure against vandalism allegedly caused by striking eThekwini Municipality workers following attacks on its water sources that disrupted water supply to some parts of the city.

The strike is led by the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu). The workers who downed tools last week have left refuse piling up in city streets and blockaded roads, causing motorists to get stuck in traffic jams.

“The Mercury” has seen correspondence between union leaders following a conversation with eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda. In it, the union leader details his conversation with the mayor.

“I have just received a call from the mayor of eThekwini Municipality. He sharply raised serious concern that infrastructure of the municipality is being destroyed by elements which he alleged are associated with the Samwu strike.

“He said this behaviour is tantamount to treason. He further stated that the matter has been escalated to the provincial and national government and Samwu will have to take full responsibility for all this,” it said.

“The Mercury” contacted the mayor’s spokesperson, who did not respond to the questions by the time of publication.

The City and the provincial government had said it would hold a briefing on Sunday to discuss the strike, but it was postponed.

Piles of refuse strewn across the city by striking workers. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

In an earlier statement, the municipality raised concerns about the damage or threat to its essential infrastructure.

“Safety measures have been implemented to ensure the well-being of municipal staff and residents during this time. This includes deployment of security personnel at strategic locations to monitor and safeguard critical infrastructure.”

It said the police had been urged to adopt a no-nonsense approach to those who abuse the right to strike and engaged in unlawful behaviour and violate the rights of others.

“The municipality notes that the current strike has all the hallmarks of criminality and illegality as there can be no justification for the distasteful events witnessed in the health-care sector and other public facilities since February 27.

“The municipality is currently instituting disciplinary action against employees who were identified committing misconduct such as assault, intimidation, damage to property and other serious forms of misconduct during the process of the unlawful industrial action.

Assessments are under way to quantify costs associated with the unlawful strike action,” it said.

The City said it has put contingency plans in place to ensure minimal disruption to water, electricity and refuse collection.

For electricity, it said it is working tirelessly to attend to major power outages in several areas and working to restore electricity supply in affected communities.

Regarding water supply, the strike has resulted in technical teams not being able to finalise troubleshooting on the northern aqueduct to determine if there is improved efficiency of water flow on the pipeline after the completion of the installation of valves on February 28.

It said vandalism and sabotage of water infrastructure had also resulted in water outages in some areas and teams had been deployed to restore water supply. Water tankers were also being dispatched.

The City said waste collection services have also been disrupted due to the strike action and residents are requested not to take out their refuse until further notice.

DA councillor Thabani Mthethwa said the party had received reports of people going around damaging water meters at people’s houses.

“Furthermore, there have been many outages across the city and these take very long to resolve. Some areas like Bonela, Morningside and areas in the south and others have been without water and electricity since last week,” he said.

ActionSA councillor Alan Beesley said they had received reports of damage to water infrastructure.

“A colleague has advised me that staff are interfering with infrastructure. Telemetry is probably being manually switched off/damaged, etc. We have already seen videos of water fountains where pipes have been deliberately broken.”

Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) also raised concerns about the violence and threats that have accompanied the strike. The union is not part of the strike.

Imatu leader Queen Mbatha said: “The perpetrators are clearly known by the employer. There are public addresses by the Samwu leadership inciting their members to deal with ‘amagundane’ (workers not striking). Clear VNs (voice notes) instructed the protesters to ‘talabha’ (beat up) the working employees,” she said.

The strike has infuriated Durban ratepayers.

Ish Prahladh of the eThekwini Ratepayers and Residents Association (ERRA) questioned why strikers are being allowed to break the law.

Asad Gaffar of the Westville Ratepayers Association said services have come to a halt. “Some areas have been without water for four days now. The community is obviously upset and wishes that the issues raised by the staff of eThekwini can be resolved soon,” Gaffar said.

Samwu leader Siyabonga Dladla said they are still waiting for the employer to engage the workers.

He declined to speak on the correspondence with the mayor and claims by Imatu, saying he would not want to cast any aspersions.

“All I can say is that if you are a leader and are required to bargain, you must bargain. If you run away, it becomes a challenge,” he said.

The Mercury