ABI strikers target 'rats'

On Tuesday last week Moses Legodi came home to find his neighbours battling to put out a fire threatening to engulf his house. They succeeded—but it was too late to save his car, which had already been destroyed by the flames.

Legodi is an accounts manager at Amalgamated Beverage Industries’s (ABI) Pretoria West depot. As the strike at the soft drink producer called by the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) raged on in its third week, workers on both sides of the industrial action are counting their personal losses.

Standing next to the ashy remains of his car on Wednesday this week, Legodi told the Mail & Guardian he is ‘astonished by the attack” because he had not received any threats about working while others were on strike.

‘The assailants are fighting me personally and not the company,” he said.
It would be ‘easy to suspect the workers on strike”, he said, but he can only wait for the police investigation to guide him.

ABI has offered to place him in a hotel until he feels safer—and even his children have asked him leave the house, he said. But he feels that would not be right.

‘I can’t expect my neighbours to fight the fire while I’m in a hotel,” he said, leaning on the burnt car’s bonnet. ‘I don’t know: maybe I’m waiting for another danger that will get me. But this is my house—I can’t run from my home.” He mentioned that a colleague at the same ABI depot lost his entire garage and car to a firebomb on the same night, just minutes after Legodi’s property was torched.

There have been reports of escalating violence since the strike started on December 22. Although disgruntled employees feel short-changed by ABI—the country’s largest soft drink manufacturer—the company says some of its delivery vehicles have been fire-bombed and stoned, and non-striking workers are being intimidated.

Fawu is calling for a 9,5% wage increase; ABI is offering a wage and benefits increase of 8,3%, which the company argues is substantially higher than the current inflation rate of 5,8%.

Samuel Khumalo—not his real name—feels desperate as the fourth week of the strike looms. ‘I’ve been working for Coke for 20 years and I’ve no benefits, no medical, nothing,” he told the M&G. He and his fellow workers were toyi-toyiing this week outside the negotiating venue in Harrison Street Johannesburg.

Khumalo complained that ‘labour brokers are taking all my salary and leaving me with nothing” and one of his fellow strikers yelled that he would not have anything to give his landlord this month.

‘It’s bad that people are being attacked,” Khumalo said, ‘but it’s also bad they are sneaking around and working while we are striking ... that’s why we call them amagun­dwane [rats].”

Demonstrations grew more violent this week when strikers clashed with police at the company’s Midrand depot and manufacturing plant. Thirty-nine strikers were arrested and taken into custody on Tuesday. ABI accused Fawu-affiliated workers of violating an interdict that prevented them from picketing within 200m of the company’s premises.

A further 89 workers were arrested on Wednesday after another outbreak of violence at the Devland factory near Johannesburg.

Percy Zvomuya

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