Metro cops threaten to burn city hall
Durban - Monday saw anarchy in the Durban CBD, when the metro police blocked roads, barged into the city’s administration offices and threatened to burn down the city hall if their demands for full-time jobs and training were not immediately met.
They also demanded that Eugene Nzama, head of the metro police, be axed immediately.
People watched in amazement as those tasked with maintaining law and order toyi-toyied, banged on taxis and stopped cars from driving on Dr Pixley kaSeme Street (West Street).
The metro police officers were armed with their service weapons and the SAPS, whose members were called in to control their colleagues, appeared nervous.
There are 3 600 metro police officers in Durban, the majority of whom are members of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu).
One of the core issues they were protesting about is the full-time employment of 1 000 temporary metro police officers, many of whom have been on contract for up to six years. As temporary employees they do not enjoy the same protection and perks from the city as full-time officers. They also wanted over-age officers to be sent for police training before they were employed.
The city would face an extra wage bill of R92.4 million a year if they were all employed on a full-time basis – money that has not been budgeted for this financial year. The minimum wage paid to an entry-level officer is R7 700 a month.
ANC heavyweights, including the party’s regional chairman and Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, were called to calm the angry group but were shouted down.
City hall security guards struggled to stop the rampaging officers from smashing the glass door to the office of city manager S’bu Sithole. Eventually the main door was chained by his bodyguards.
ANC eThekwini executive committee members led by mayor James Nxumalo and Dhlomo, met behind closed doors for over an hour before they went to the main hall to address the officers.
Nxumalo told the angry crowd the city was dealing with their grievances. “If we say temporary employees will be converted to permanent staff we do not mean that will be implemented tomorrow… We are guided by rules and regulations. Just give the city manager a chance to implement our decisions,” he said.
He was aware of the issues raised by officers but urged them to be patient. He promised they would be made permanent by the end of the financial year.
“We must go back to the drawing board… give us until Thursday,” he said. But Nxumalo’s comments only provoked the crowd more. They were tired of listening to “empty promises” they shouted.
“We will burn down city hall… Nzama must be redeployed to guard cemeteries. We want him removed,” shouted one officer.
Nzama was placed on special leave in July following strikes by union members and protests by city taxi operators. However, he was brought back before his special leave ended. During his leave Sithole asked the city's disaster management head, Vincent Ngubane, to speedily address issues that Nzama had allegedly failed to deal with.
Police officers said Nzama had disrupted the plans that Ngubane had set in motion to turn around the metro police.
Samwu provincial secretary Jaycee Ncanana said it was “high time” the city acted on the demands. “Our members have genuine demands and this kind of situation will make the metro police ungovernable,” he said.
DA caucus leader Tex Collins agreed that the metro police had genuine concerns but, he said, as officers they were supposed to be upholding the law and not rampaging.
“We are seriously concerned about the slow pace at which the city manager is dealing with the issues at metro police,” said Collins.
Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation researcher David Bruce said law-enforcement organisations were expected to protest in a lawful, peaceful manner.
“This kind of action brings the metro police into disrepute and undermines their credibility. If they engage in destructive protests they are undermining the law,” he said.
Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said: “We have noted today’s (Monday’s) events and the matter will be discussed by Exco.” - The Mercury