Striking municipal workers in Cape Town greeted Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson with anger and shouts of “18%” when he emerged from the city’s civic centre to accept their memorandum for higher wages on Monday.
Riot police officers stood guard outside the civic centre, with barbed wire surrounding much of the front part of the building.
About 3 300 South African Municipal Workers’ Union members went striking through Cape Town’s CBD as part of national strike action over wages.
The workers are demanding an 18% or R2 000 pay hike while the South African Local Government Association (Salga) is offering 6%.
In Cape Town, strikers turned out garbage bins, kicking litter across the street while shouting “phansi 6%, phansi”. Many were drinking beer while marijuana could also be smelled in the air.
The workers were hoping that Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille would come to speak to them and didn’t hold back their anger when her deputy greeted them.
Crowd shouts voetsek
Wearing a suit and tie, Neilson was heavily guarded by riot officers armed with shields and emerged from behind a police casper parked in front of the civic centre. He tried to put on a brave face when workers shouted “voetsek” and other expletives at him.
After listening to a list of demands read out by Samwu’s Andre Adams, Neilson responded by saying that “I will take your memorandum back to the mayor and mayoral committee”.
“The city appreciates the contributions workers make,” Neilson told the crowds.
“We accept your right to strike and ask that you honour the conditions of [the] strike.
“I don’t believe all the information [in the memorandum] is accurate.
“[We] must start with correct, accurate information.”
The deputy mayor ended his speech by telling workers to “enjoy the rest of your day”, to which they responded with “voetsek” and a reference to female genitalia.
Salaries too low
Many of the strikers say that their current salary is making it difficult for them to be granted loans from banks, and as a result thereof, can’t qualify to buy houses because their salary is simply too low.
Renier Martin from Fisantekraal says he has been employed permanently by the City of Cape Town since December 2009 and is earning a monthly salary of R4 350.
Martin says what he wants is a 100% increase, but he knows this will not happen so he is willing to settle for a R2 000 hike.
“Some of us who received permanent contracts from 2009 are still owed nine months worth of backpay,” said Martin, adding that he would not be surprised if they did not get the backpay owed to them.
He says that there is currently a court case underway, regarding the outstanding backpay.
Mzukiseni Mdodasi from Du Noon says he is currently earning R5 700 and he would be delighted by the R2 000 increase, because he has dreams of buying a house but does not qualify for a bank loan to do so.
He says that his transport alone costs him about R250 a week.
Adams said that the strike would continue on Tuesday.