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 Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) in the Western Cape promised that it would not allow further looting or rioting.
Dissatisfied municipal workers demanded an 18% pay increase. The SA Government Association is offering them 8%. In addition to the increase the workers want a basic salary of R4 200 ($600) a month, a yearly 13th 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 and pass Adderley, the Grande Parade, and City Hall. On Tuesday the police were directing traffic away from the area and I noticed badly littered streets.
Demetri Qually, the 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.”
Street vendors who sell their wares on the pavement tried to hide unpacked goods as the rioting workers approached. Adderley Street shopkeepers locked their doors as they saw the striking workers smashing car windows. Police cordoned off the Parliament area near the top end of Adderley. According to The City of Cape Town 21% of the workforce was absent from work without authorization.
On Wednesday the SAMWU protestors took a non-violent 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 protestors 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 handed to him by SAMWU members.
There is still no word on whether there is a resolution to SAMWU’s demands that satisfies both sides.