Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille on Wednesday called on the leader of the African National Congress in the city, Tony Ehrenreich, to support a claim for damages from striking municipal workers who went on a rampage in the city on Tuesday.
“This administration condemns the unacceptably high levels of reported violence, intimidation of non-striking workers and property damage by Samwu [South African Municipal Workers’ Union] workers during the strike,” De Lille said in a statement.
“This administration respects the right of workers to strike as a fundamental labour right in our democracy. We do not respect the exploitation of those rights to cause damage and threaten others.
“I call on the leader of the opposition in the city council, councillor Tony Ehrenreich to join me in condemning illegal behaviour and to support the city claiming for damages from Samwu.”
The strikers, some wearing red Samwu shirts, looted from vendors, set plastic rubbish bins on fire and smashed the windows of vehicles as they protested for higher wages.
The city’s main shopping avenue, Adderley Street, was left covered with litter and burned bins on Tuesday.
A number of vendors who sell goods such as cosmetics, coffee, wallets and belts on the pavements of the street were unpacking goods they had tried to hide as the workers approached.
Shops on the street locked their doors as the workers approached — who were seen smashing the windows of vehicles as they marched.
Parliament, near the top end of Adderley Street, was also cordoned off by the police.
Thirteen protesters were arrested and were expected to be charged with public violence, police said.
‘Whatever action is necessary’
Violence was also reported in other parts of the city, including Parrow.
Samwu is demanding an 18% pay increase. The South African Local Government Association is offering 6%.
Ehrenreich, who leads the Congress of South African Trade Unions in the Western Cape, addressed the workers outside of the city’s offices at the start of the strike on Monday.
The city has warned striking municipal workers that it will take “whatever action is necessary” to protect its property.
De Lille said the city would review CCTV footage of the violence on Tuesday.
“The city will identify those employees who have acted in an unlawful manner against the safety of our employees, members of our community and public property,” she said.
“Where we find evidence of criminal behaviour, we will consider instituting both disciplinary and possibly criminal charges against the offenders.”
The city would also assess all damages to property by Samwu and its members.
“We shall reserve the right to claim these costs from Samwu as we have done in the past,” De Lille said.
The strike is set to continue on Wednesday.
Opposition MPs have condemned the “pathetic and reckless” behaviour of the strikers.
“The Independent Democrats strongly condemns the pathetic and reckless behaviour of municipal workers embarking on strike action in Adderley Street a few hours ago,” said Independent Democrats MP Sarah Paulse on Tuesday.
“It is unacceptable that private and public property is being destroyed and damaged by strikers.”
Common features of strikes
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Ian Ollis said the violent nature of the strike and the “malicious damage to property” added “renewed urgency” to a private member’s bill that seeks to hold unions liable for the damage their members cause.
“Tomorrow [Wednesday], at the meeting of the private member’s legislative proposal committee, the DA will ask why it has taken so long for the committee to discuss the legislation we submitted in March,” Ollis said.
“The DA supports and recognises the constitutional right to strike, but we deplore the violence, intimidation and destruction of private and state-owned property that has become a common feature of industrial action.”
KZN shops closed
Meanwhile, shops were closed along the route used by striking municipal workers in Durban on Wednesday.
The march began at Curries Fountain and protesters used the Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Pixley ka Seme streets. They trashed rubbish bins on their way to the City Hall where they were to hand over a memorandum.
Earlier Samwu provincial secretary Jaycee Canana said the date of the march had been changed.
“It was supposed to take place on Friday but we have decided to change it to today.”– Sapa