South African Municipal Workers Union
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) began a country-wide strike on Monday, August 15. On Tuesday, municipal workers in Cape Town’s Central Business District marched and protested by looting vendor stalls, setting plastic bins on fire, and smashing car windows. Two popular shopping areas, Adderley Street and the Grande Parade near City Hall, were left covered with litter. The Western Cape Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) promised that it would not allow further looting or rioting.
Dissatisfied municipal workers demanded an eighteen percent pay increase. The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is offering them eight percent. In addition to the pay increase, workers want a basic salary of R4 200 ($600) a month, a yearly thirteenth check, an eight-hour working day, and equal pay for SAMWU members in both rural and urban areas.
On the way to and from Zonnebloem, I drive down Strand Street passing by Adderley Street, the Grande Parade, and City Hall. On Tuesday, the police were directing traffic away from the area, and I noticed badly littered streets.
City of Cape Town
Demetri Qually, City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for corporate services, warned striking municipal workers that the City will take “whatever action necessary to protect its property”. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille threatened to sue the union for damages to City property. The City of Cape Town is seeking an interdict against the strike. Qually said, “should SAMWU members continue to behave in the manner displayed thus far, the City will have no option but to take whatever action is lawfully necessary to ensure the safety of its employees, the community, and public property”.
As the rioters approached, street vendors who sell wares on the pavement tried to hide their unpacked goods. Adderley Street shopkeepers locked their doors when they saw rioters smashing car windows. Police cordoned off the Parliament area near Upper Adderley Street. The City of Cape Town reported twenty percent of its workforce absent without authorization.
On Wednesday, SAMWU protesters took a more nonviolent approach and marched from the Castle of Good Hope to the Provincial Parliament Building on Wale Street holding hands and singing. A line of riot police formed at the front of the group. When the protesters arrived at Parliament, they were met by more riot police. After a few speeches from union leaders, the Department of Labor’s Deputy Director General, Les Kettledas, came out from Parliament to accept a memorandum from SAMWU members.
There’s still no word on a resolution to SAMWU’s demands that satisfies both sides.