JUST moments before the Buffalo City Metro council was set to discuss the R6-million taxi scandal yesterday, members of South African Municipal Workers’
Union (Samwu) stormed the East London City Hall attacking people and damaging vehicles.
The outbreak of violence led to council speaker Luleka Simon calling off the first council meeting of the year as councillors, municipal manager Andile Fani and Saturday Dispatch staffers covering the story were caught up in chaos.
Police fired rubber bullets at the protesters, who retaliated by throwing stones, bottles and other objects.
Reporter Mamela Gowa, who described the scene as “complete chaos and mayhem”, was hit once on the arm and once on the leg by stones.
“Rubber bullets and stones were flying everywhere. It was chaos. I tried hiding under councilor Phumla Nazo’s vehicle. Municipal manager Andile Fani and his bodyguards were also squashed behind the vehicle,” said Gowa.
“Everyone was scared. I cried as the chaos became violent. It was a very scary experience.”
Dispatch photographer Stephanie Lloyd said the violence started when protesters were encouraged to storm the city hall.
“Once inside the city hall compound protesters grabbed rocks, metal poles which they broke out of the ground and glass bottles and began hurling them at Metro police blocking the entrance,” said Lloyd. “One protester turned to me and started to shout ‘mlungu’.
“It was then I had bottles and stones thrown my way. I had to watch from underneath a police vehicle. I continued to take pictures and slowly entered the compound once more but was once again targeted and I ran for cover, eventually being ushered out of the area by police.”
Online reporter Gugu Phandle, who was shooting video, said the sound of rubber bullets and the screams and shouts of angry people had been frightening.
“It’s something I will never forget. We were trapped outside the city hall and being caught in the crossfire was one of the scariest moments of my life.”
Police were forced to fire rubber bullets and let off stungrenades in an effort to disperse the unruly protesters.
Seven people were later arrested for public violence and are expected to appear in court on Monday morning.
It is believed the workers were protesting over a 14th cheque. However, some people believe the protest was staged to disrupt the council meeting.
One protester was overheard saying: “This is our region, nothing will touch (Buffalo City ANC regional secretary Pumlani) Mkolo. The mayor (Zukiswa Ncitha) needs to know better, where is our money, she must come out,” shouted the female protester wearing a red Samwu T-shirt.
Mkolo, who didn’t attend the council meeting, was later seen outside addressing the protesters.
Speaking to the Dispatch inside the council chambers, ANC regional chairwoman, Zukisa Faku, said she was shocked by the violence. “This protest has other elements,” she said. “It is funny that it happens as the council was to discuss the tender issues.”
However, the PAC’s Jerome Mdyolo said he believed the protesters just wanted their money.
“All they wanted was their 14th cheque. I doubt if this was planned,” said Mdyolo.
Samwu leaders yesterday distanced themselves from the mayhem and placed the blame at Ncitha’s door.
Samwu BCM secretary Zolani Ndlela said the violence was a result of the mayor’s “arrogance towards the workforce”.
“What happened today is quite shocking and an unfortunate incident perpetrated by the mayor herself,” he said.
“As Samwu leadership we met the authorities over the 14th cheque issue recently and we were assured the matter was to be discussed in the council meeting. We had permission to march to the city hall and were expecting Ncitha to accept a memorandum from the workers.
“But when she became arrogant and declined to receive our memorandum or even send someone to receive it, the workers became agitated and out of anger they resorted to what happened.”
He urged the provincial and regional ANC to intervene in the matter “before things get out of hand and all hell breaks loose”.
Council had yesterday been set to discuss the R5.985-million tender to transport mourners to memorial services for former President Nelson Mandela around the metro. The tender was awarded to Victory Ticket 750cc, a company owned by Mzwandile Sokwali.
Dispatch investigations revealed that Mkolo’s ex-girlfriend, Nosiphiwe Mati, received R100000 from Victory Ticket while Mkolo’s friend and businessman, Mlandeli Vazi’s daughter, Viwe, received R899000.
Mantella Trading was paid R1.380-million by Victory Ticket for printing 20000 T-shirts bearing Mandela’s face.
Early last week ANC provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane called for an investigation into the matter saying those found guilty should be charged.
Calls have also been made for officials involved to be suspended.
Mdyolo said: “The mayor should be suspended and this be thoroughly investigated.”
Faku added her voice to the calls for an investigation.
“As the ANC regional chairwoman, I’m disappointed at all these allegations that Mkolo could have been involved. We are not saying he did anything wrong, but I am disappointed his name is coming out like this. We are calling for a forensic investigation and as the ANC we are distancing ourselves from this,” said Faku.
Late yesterday afternoon, a heavy police presence ringed city hall as the councillors struggled to leave. Fani could not be reached for comment.
• For video see www.dispatch.co,za