Protesting security guards in Pretoria began to disperse on Thursday afternoon after their strike turned violent earlier, with a security vehicle set alight and rubbish strewn in the inner city.
At one stage police fired rubber bullets at the protesting guards in an effort to calm the situation.
The situation turned sour after representatives of the estimated 10 000 strikers handed over a memorandum at the Department of Labour. At that point the march was supposed to be over, but pockets of strikers broke away from the main body and ran through the streets.
Police spokesperson Inspector Paul Ramaloko confirmed the crowd had overturned a Chubb security vehicle while a non-striking security guard was trapped inside. An eyewitness said the man was then pulled out of the car by the angry crowd. The man was rescued by a police officer who happened to be driving past.
The car was then set alight by the protesters and plumes of black smoke could be seen from as far as the Union Buildings as the car burned on Nelson Mandela Street.
Emergency services were called to extinguish the blaze while police and metro police, some in riot gear, had difficulty controlling the protesters.
Strikers overturned rubbish bins, grabbed cold drinks from a cold-drink delivery truck, obstructed traffic and harassed vendors at a flea market in Church Street.
A number of the strikers held an assortment of objects, including thick tree branches, umbrellas and pangas and brandished them at motorists who attempted to drive when the light was green for motorists at some intersections in the city.
Police reinforcements arrived and the crowds were forced westwards on Church street towards Church Square where they started to disperse.
Ramaloko said reports that a man had been shot by police were false.
”There was no-one shot at by police this afternoon. Police did fire tear gas to disperse the striking security guards, but definitely nobody was shot.”
Ramaloko said the marchers, being security guards, had firearms and had been firing these randomly during the protest.
”There was one incident of a man lying down outside the security officers’ board building in Beatrix Street, but he was lying down from being incapacitated by tear gas. He was not shot.”
So far one man had been arrested.
”The man was held by police after he began physically fighting them and refused to be directed. Police had to restrain him and hold him in custody.”
Ramaloko could not confirm whether the man had been charged or if he was still in custody.
He confirmed that several people had been injured during the protest but described the situation as ”under control”.
Gauteng police commissioner Perumal Naidoo was present on Church Square on Thursday afternoon, but did not speak to reporters. He left as the crowd started to disperse.
Increasing levels of intimidation
Earlier, security employers reported increasing levels of intimidation, especially in Pretoria and Cape Town, where a march to hand over a petition was also held.
South African National Security Employers’ Association (Sansea) spokesperson Steve Friswel said some uniformed guards were dragged from their workplace and forced to participate in the march in Pretoria.
There was also a report of a guard stripped of his uniform in the Cape and beaten.
Friswel said there was little absenteeism in Johannesburg and the East and West Rand. Some Sansea members reported 100% attendance. In the Cape and Pretoria, however, some companies reported 80% absenteeism.
Sansea represents about 110 security companies that employ between 50 000 and 60 000 guards. There are about 283 700 registered guards in South Africa, working for 4 200 registered businesses. About 90 000 are unionised.
Sansea is one of five employer associations affected by the two-day strike that began in seven provinces on Thursday.
In another incident in Pretoria, striking security guards attacked a naval warrant officer and an able seaman, who were both in full naval uniform, the South African Navy said.
The warrant officer was left with an open head wound that required treatment at 1 Military Hospital, and the able seaman’s rank insignia were stripped from her uniform. She escaped bruised and badly shaken.
Another group of strikers are also said to have attempted to attack members of the military but failed when the soldiers retreated into a secured area.
The Chief of the SA Navy, Rear Admiral Refiloe Mudimo, has expressed disgust at the attack on the two naval personnel in Pretoria.
”This is a matter of serious concern and one that needs to be addressed with urgency,” Mudimo said in a statement about the targeting of military and security-services personnel.
In Cape Town, several thousand guards marched on Parliament amid a strong police presence.
South African Trade and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) leaders addressed the large crowd at Parliament’s gates, threatening another strike if their demands were not met within seven days.
”We are here to let them understand that we can make the country stand still until our demands are met,” an official said over the public address system. ”We strongly believe workers in this sector are getting a raw deal.”
Minister of Labour Membathisi Mdladlana is the only one able to make a decent sectoral determination for the industry’s workers. ”We will use all tactics at our disposal [to have our demands met],” the official said.
After a memorandum was handed over to a Department of Labour representative, another was presented to Deputy Minister of Safety and Security Susan Shabangu, herself a veteran trade unionist.
She promised to see the matter was given attention, and appealed to the sometimes restless crowd for discipline and to refrain from violence during their protest.
Satawu leaders repeatedly called on the crowd for order and calm, saying workers should not lose direction and needed to remain disciplined if they wanted their demands met.
Marchers dispersed peacefully in several directions following the handover of the memorandums.
The unions involved in the strike are Satawu, the National Security and Unqualified Workers’ Union, the Professional Transport Workers’ Union of South Africa, the Security Officer Civil Rights and Allied Workers’ Union, the South African Private Security Workers’ Union, the South African Cleaning, Security and Allied Workers’ Union, the United Private Sector Workers’ Union, the Protectors Workers’ Union, the Food, Cleaning and Security Workers’ Union and the South African National Security Officers’ Forum.
The industrial action in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the North West, Free State, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal follows failed wage negotiations that started in October last year. Unions are demanding an 11% across-the-board increase and an additional 4% increase for the lowest-paid workers.
Guards in the Northern and Eastern Cape provinces will strike on Monday and Tuesday, with KwaZulu-Natal workers joining for a repeat strike.
Should a settlement not be reached by then, workers will strike indefinitely from April 3. — Sapa