Pretoria - Hundreds of Tshwane municipal workers turned on their employer on Thursday trying to invade the Sammy Marks chamber where a special council sitting was taking place.
As executive mayor Solly Msimanga had warned, workers in the city’s Expanded Public Works Programme, known as Vat Alles, who want permanent employment, planned to disrupt the council.
The workers, led by the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), obtained permission to march from the Old Putco bus depot in Struben Street to Church Square, where a memorandum was to be handed to the city at the Old Raadsaal.
The protesting workers' grievances, included allegations of racism and exploitation, and they demanded permanent positions.
Kitted out in signature red Samwu shirts and the orange regalia of Vat Alles, they streamed down Sophie de Bruyn Street singing and chanting while traffic came to a complete standstill.
The workers continued into WF Nkomo Street (Church), upending dustbins and helping themselves to food and other items from informal traders along the way.
At the Old Raadsaal, when a city official wanted to accept the memorandum, the workers insisted they wanted to hand it to the mayor in person, who was in the council.
When he did not arrive within the time they stipulated, they proceeded to the council chamber at Sammy Marks Square, marching along Madiba Street and again upending dustbins and looting informal traders’ wares.
Tshwane metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba said the march from Church Square to Sammy Marks was illegal. A probe would be conducted to find out if damage was caused to businesses. Should there be damage, the union's leadership would be held responsible, he said.
On reaching Sammy Marks, drama unfolded outside the council chamber and police used stun grenades and teargas to disperse the crowd that threatened Msimanga.
Businesses on Sammy Marks Square had closed shop to safeguard themselves.
The mayor was escorted by bodyguards back into the council offices. When some protesters tried to force their way into the chamber, they were blocked by police.
After being dispersed, the workers regrouped but their leaders pleaded with them to behave.
Msimanga was seen leaving the chamber escorted by the police. He was taken to a metro police Nyala vehicle parked near the protesters. By then, the SAPS had been joined by metro police officers and the tactical response team.
Msimanga eventually accepted the memorandum, saying he had done so despite the unlawful protest, violent behaviour and the taunting of law enforcers.
“The protest was entirely unlawful; permission was not granted to gather outside the chamber, much less to breach its perimeter.
“As such the city will be pursuing criminal charges against the Samwu leadership,” he said.
Msimanga said significant progress was being made by the council to improve services for all residents, not only a few disgruntled and politically-aligned protesters attempting to derail the city’s work.
The mayor said: “The business of turning Tshwane around will not be hijacked by anyone, and we continue to make progress every day - Samwu should respect that.”
Mpho Tladinyane, Samwu regional secretary, told the Pretoria News there were a range of issues the workers wanted addressed, claiming the city had been racist in its staff allocation and that Vat Alles workers were being exploited and paid less than other municipal workers who did exactly the same duties.
They worked without the guarantee of permanent employment, and said benefits were taken from them because of budget cuts.
Vat Alles is a council job-creation project to provide work for people to provide rudimentary cleaning services across the city.