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Cape Town mayor: We’ve failed

Published May 7, 2015

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Cape Town - In a major concession to disgruntled council workers, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille admitted the city had not responded adequately to grievances raised by the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) more than a year ago.

“We’ve failed as a city to solve all the problems. I should have intervened sooner, but today we’ve drawn the line,” said De Lille as she addressed about 2 000 striking municipal workers who gathered outside the Civic Centre on Wednesday.

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The workers, brandishing metal pipes and hockey sticks, descended on the CBD on Wednesday morning to hand over a memorandum of 34 unresolved grievances.

Those who had arrived via Cape Town Station threw rubbish and upturned bins as they made their way towards Adderley Street. Hordes of protesters deviated from the allocated route and instead headed down Darling and Adderley streets before arriving in Hertzog Boulevard. Shop owners hastily closed their doors, but vendors who were not as fast had some of their goods looted by the large group that carried wooden sticks, mops and even bathroom plungers. Police were forced to use stun grenades to bring them under control.

At the Civic Centre, De Lille made several announcements in response to workers’ grievances while addressing them from atop a truck. She acknowledged that the city did not have a standard policy for transport allowances for all council workers and admitted there was no policy preventing pregnant firefighters from receiving their monthly operational allowances.

She also assured workers that disciplinary hearings would be better handled.

“I can’t be a shop steward for the city, but when it comes to disciplinary hearings and grievance processes, I’m prepared to go to council to take away the validation from line managers to fire people. You can’t be the complainant, the judge and the jury.”

She agreed there may have been a communication problem between the city and the union. “There are weaknesses on both sides. The City of Cape Town is committed to continue training city management to respect and deal with unions better. I want to once and for all sit with them and resolve the issues and I will deal with them myself. It is not my role to interfere with the administrations, but the buck stops with me.”

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In a statement issued after her meeting with the union’s leaders, De Lille outlined the city’s response to nine of Samwu’s concerns.

These included respecting the rights of all workers, including pregnant firefighters who would still get their monthly operational allowances, and an undertaking that the city would hire temporary Expanded Public Works Programme employees when permanent posts became available.

The standard transport allowance for all city employees would be in place from July, after consultation with the unions.

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But De Lille also challenged Samwu to provide more information for some of its other grievances, including allegations that library staff have been robbed at gunpoint. She urged Samwu to attend a CCMA meeting scheduled for May 18 to deal with allegations of racism in Khayelitsha, as the union had failed to attend a prior meeting on the issue in March.

De Lille also denied an allegation of racism in the reallocation of workers in the water and sanitation department. “That is a lie. Out of the 10 employees intended to be relocated, three are white, five are coloured and two are black.”

De Lille said while the city would do its part to deal with unions more effectively, the unions had to train their shop stewards to deal with workers’ complaints and grievances.

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The group dispersed soon after De Lille spoke, in contrast to their destructive arrival in the city centre a few hours earlier.

Protesters had tipped over rubbish bins and emptied bags filled with leaves and litter on to the street. At the Civic Centre, city law enforcement officers confiscated bottles of beer and “papsakke” full of wine being consumed by some of the marchers. Samwu’s national leadership distanced itself from the incidents of looting, which it said was carried out by “opportunists and criminal elements to exploit street vendors”.

“Street vendors are part of the working class and, as such, any attack directed at them would be counter revolutionary and not in our interest in our fight against the City of Cape Town which continues to exploit our members.” said Papikie Mohale, Samwu’s national media officer.

While the protesters wreaked havoc, the corporate services portfolio committee condemned strike-related violence at clinics and municipal facilities.

“Doors have been knocked down with axes, people are being injured. We need to condemn this in the strongest possible terms and the city, with SAPS, must take immediate action to protect these vulnerable service points,” said councillor Stuart Pringle.

Police spokesman Colonel Thembinkosi Kinana said he was not able to confirm if any criminal cases were opened, but police would be investigating a case of public violence. He added that no injuries or arrests were made. About 50 areas across the city have been affected by service disruptions since the strike started on Monday.

Cape Argus

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