Johannesburg - The unprotected strike by Pikitup employees in Joburg took a nasty turn on Tuesday, with four members of the Red Ants crew - who have been contracted to clean up the CBD - being shot at point-blank range.
Three of the members were in intensive care at an undisclosed hospital on Tuesday night, after the shooting in Klein Street near the Wanderers taxi rank. The fourth man, who managed to overpower the gunman, sustained minor injuries.
But Red Ants owner Johan Bosch said they would not be deterred by the shootings and would continue assisting Pikitup to clean up the inner city. Instead, he said they had increased the security around their crew contracted to clean Joburg’s streets.
Three members of the Red Ants were busy with the clean-up on Tuesday when they were surrounded by several people. One opened fire, hitting three Red Ants personnel in the chest, inflicting critical injuries on them.
He continued firing his gun and a fourth staff member was injured in the shoulder as he disarmed and overpowered the shooter, taking possession of the gun as he kept firing.
Bosch said the Red Ants cleaning crew were taken off guard. “We have guards protecting the cleaners, but they were taken by surprise. A group of men approached and one suddenly pulled out a gun and started shooting at the workers at close range.
“We are prepared to bring in an additional 5 000 members if necessary to protect our cleaning crews if we have to. We will not be intimidated.”
Red Ants chief operating officer Fuzile Balintulo said they did not know who the gunman was, but they had handed him over to the police, who are investigating the incident.
“We cannot point fingers, but at this stage, it appears likely that it was a disgruntled group of Pikitup workers who did not like to see us cleaning in the inner city. It is senseless and it was unprovoked.
“We were simply assisting with a clean-up, and as a result four people have been injured. We pray that our staff members who are in ICU pull through,” he said.
South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) national spokesman Papikie Mohale denied it was their members who had committed the crime. “They are cleaners, who do not carry guns - it is the Joburg metro police officers who have guns - not us. We deny they did any shooting,” he said.
Samwu has vowed to continue the strike. And, from next Wednesday, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane will join in solidarity.
“Despite this, Pikitup does not think that the situation has reached a crisis point, they bluntly refuse to have meaningful engagements with us aimed at resolving the impulse,” Mohale said. He accused the city of acts of intimidation. “All they know is to deploy military-style private security companies to intimidate workers. The workers’ grievances are genuine and will not be overshadowed by the arrogance of the employer,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the striking workers took their fight to the Gauteng legislature. They tipped bins out at the entrance and set plastic bins alight. Some protesters threatened police officers with violence, forcing them to call for back-up.
As the workers dispersed, they continued to trash the streets and blocked a Rea Vaya bus in Rissik Street. Pikitup spokesman Jacky Mashapu could not be reached for comment last night.
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