Pretoria - Willie the Koala could have lived longer if the experienced people meant to take care of him were there instead of outside in the cold striking.
And while National Zoological Gardens of South Africa management allegedly drags its feet with paying its employees' benefits, things continue to go downhill inside the Zoo, according to branch secretary for the National Trade Union Congress, Frans Rasethe.
“Comments by management that things are running smoothly at the Zoo is a lie. There have been incidents occurring in the Zoo to the point where an important species has now died.”
“Willie the Koala died because the relevant people to take care of it are outside here with us striking for their benefits.
"Finance, cleaning and landscaping staff are outside here, while interns and non-unionised members are being overburdened with work.”
Acting managing director and spokesperson for the Zoo, Craig Allenby meanwhile has rubbished these allegations, as he maintained everything was still running okay.
Allenby said management had repeatedly given the union the offer and were still on track with ensuring benefits would be paid come the deadline of 13 March 2020 as they were meant to.
He said there was no link between the death of the koala and the striking members.
According to the zoo, the koala died last Saturday while under the care of the zoo’s veterinarians, with its death believed to have been caused by a chronic liver condition it had.
“We are still awaiting reports from our veterinary department. The koala was 13-and-a-half years old and their longevity in the wild is approximately 13 years as this one was.”
However, Ndivhuho Munyai, employee shop steward, said the recorded lifespan of a koala in an environment such as the Zoo should be 22 years, as opposed to the wild which indeed was 13 years.
“Ours (koala) the way it was going it could have survived longer, as it was very sensitive and needed special care. We don’t deny it was old but its state was aggravated further by lack of staff.”
Employees have been protesting for over a month, outside the Zoo’s secondary entrance over alleged employee benefits denied to them following their transfer to the institute from the National Research Foundation last year.
Members complained of the lack of medical aid and housing allowances not being paid to them since they were transferred to the Institute since 1 April 2018.
The employees have been on a protected strike since 12 June after being given the "go-ahead" by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration on 21 May.