Gauteng / 28 August 2015, 12:55pm / Rapula Moatshe
Pretoria - There was drama outside the Sammy Marks Council Chamber on Thursday as police tried to stave off a move by disgruntled municipal workers to storm into a council meeting.
The workers are employed under “Vat Alles”, a national initiative which forms part of the Extended Public Works Programme. The programme employs young people to clean the streets, municipal offices and schools.
About 500 workers had come from places such as Motsweding, Soshanguve, Mabopane, Winterveld and Ga-Rankuwa. They downed tools with the intention of disrupting the meeting after not being paid their monthly stipends on August 26. They also demanded to be offered permanent posts.
They gathered on the ground floor with bated breath, hoping to have an audience with executive mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa over their grievances. The council meeting was held on the first floor and escalators were somehow stopped and people attending the meeting were forced to use stairs.
Demonstrators clapped hands and sang Struggle songs in front of the shops, disturbing customers.
Their attempt to derail the council meeting was, however, foiled by a group of police and metro cops armed with batons and firearms who blocked their way to the meeting.
Some protesters desperately tried to negotiate their way into the chamber, but police refused to allow them. They were instead warned not to disrupt the meeting.
Workers’ leader Geniver Mokonyane said the mayor had met them last month in an attempt to solve their problems, which included poor working conditions and lack of protective clothing.
Mayoral spokesman Blessing Manale said Ramokgopa could not address them because he was in a council meeting.
However, he appealed to disgruntled members “to refrain from staging illegal gatherings and follow the correct procedures to raise their issues”.
It was not the first time workers had taken to the streets to complain about non-payment of stipends.
Last month they gathered at Atteridgeville Stadium after they had not been paid for a month.
Noria Phoshokwe said their payments last month were processed after the Pretoria News published a story on their plight.
She said workers met the mayor who promised to solve their problems, but he had not kept his word.
Some workers put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the MMC for Roads and Transport George Matjila, accusing him of not taking their problems seriously.
They demanded to work under the mayor’s office and be removed from Matjila’s department.
“We are here because the mayor has consistently lied to us that he would solve our issues,” said Phoshokwe.
She accused Matjila of having failed to provide them with protective apparel such as overalls, gloves and boots, saying the ones they have are worn out.
Inside the chamber, councillors unleashed tirades against each other but nothing was said about the grievances of workers.
They also observed the celebration of Women’s Month by expressing gratitude to the work done by women. Ramokgopa talked about the newly launch wi-fi project which enables people to make free calls from places where they could access the technology.
Manale said Ramokgopa has assigned Matjila to continue to engage with the group “to ensure that any reasonable dissent and dissatisfaction by this brigade of development workers are addressed to their logical conclusion”.