eThekwini stutters as polling gets underway

Umlazi citizens protest ahead of the May 8 polls. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Umlazi citizens protest ahead of the May 8 polls. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Service delivery protests and the continuing strike by council workers in the eThekwini Metro caused delays this morning to the opening of polling stations in the city and in several other areas in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) in the province confirmed this morning that blockaded roads in Umlazi in South Durban had caused “minor” delays in the delivery of materials to polling stations in the township.

The province has already been identified by police as a potential hotspot ahead of the poll and there are concerns that the strike and protests allied to it may negatively impact on voting.

One striking municipal worker has reportedly been killed in clashes related to the strike by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) over the appointment of 60 former Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) veterans in the council’s water and electricity departments. It is alleged the newly employed MK vets earn wages up to R12 000 higher than union members.

The city has been hit by violent protests over the appointments since last Tuesday, with the strike spreading to the solid waste department from electricity and water.
Water supply to the south of the city has been interrupted and strikers have threatened to cut off the water supply to other parts of the city if their demands are not met.

The strikers have also demanded the resignation of eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede over the appointments, which were allegedly unprocedural, sparking intervention by the provincial government in a bid to prevent the protests from impacting on Wednesday’s poll.

The IEC said that additional protests at Ndwedwe, Maphumulo, Ubuhlebezwe and Mandeni had also caused some delay in the opening of polling stations.

IEC spokesperson Thabani Ngwira said that municipal security guards had locked the gates at the council office, where the regional IEC was based, which had delayed the delivery of election materials to stations within the municipality.

The IEC in the province had approved 102 453 applications for special votes, 31 781 of them at voting stations and 70 672 for home visits.

‘’We are pleased to report that all operations are going well and no major incidents have been reported. We are aware of minor incidents that have been reported which were hampering our services and the opening of voting stations on time,’’ he said.

He said all the incidents were resolved quickly and that the commission was confident that operations would continue smoothly, both during special voting and on Wednesday.

Blockades of the Durban Central Business District continued on Monday, with the eThekwini Municipality confirming that it was now ‘’unable to provide basic services normally in certain areas.’’

City manager Sipho Nzuza said the city had brought in private contractors to assist in restoring basis services, including the removal of refuse in the city centre, which had been dumped by strikers since Tuesday.

Nzuza said the city was trying to restore water supply to communities which had been without water for days, with the situation being worsened by the collapse of the Merebank reservoir.

‘’Two private contractors and 100 volunteers have been brought on board to ensure all refuse in and around the city center is cleared within 24 hours,’’ he said.

Nzuza said the city’s tap water was safe to drink and that people should disregard hoax messages claiming that strikers had tainted the city’s water supply with sewerage.

He said the city had called on striker to return to work while negotiations took place to resolve the dispute, which was being referred to the local government central bargaining council.

Attempts to secure comment from SAMWU provincial officials were unsuccessful at the time of writing.

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