King, EL under fiery siege from Samwu protests
A fiery municipal strike left the streets of East London and King William's Town a smouldering mess on Tuesday – and a furious BCM fire chief says a number of tyre stores in town were “giving away” the tyres that fed the flames.
“This is a very dangerous practice,” Thembile Thompson said. “There is a store in Beaconsfield Street where I removed 15 old tyres with the help of police. The store was giving them away to strikers. The tyres were stacked in front of the store. There is another one in Fleet Street doing the same thing. I will be visiting them tomorrow.”
Thompson said the department would do fire inspections to catch and penalise firms for breaching safety standards. “Stacking those tyres there in front of their businesses is a fire hazard to their own premises too.”
Thompson has warned tyre fitment workshops not to give tyres to protesters again but to take them to the motor race track in Leaches Bay. Thompson said he would involve law enforcement authorities in the planned clampdown.
During the two-city strike, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.
The protest kicked off in King William's Town at 11am with workers toppling rubbish containers and burning tyres in Alexander and Buffalo roads.
King William's Town police spokesperson Captain Siphokazi Mawisa said the workers then got on the backs of municipal trucks and bakkies and travelled to East London.
BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said they had not been authorised to do so.
They only had permission to attend a union meeting at the Orient Theatre in East London.
“I can confirm that the municipal management only approved the use of our fleet for the purpose of the meeting. We condemn the chaos that later occurred here in East London,” said Ngwenya.
East London police spokesperson Warrant Officer Hazel Mqala said Oxford Street was closed for an hour on Tuesday as rubbish blocked the road and black tyre smoke obscured the vision. When the Dispatch arrived in the CBD, four tyres were burning in front of a petrol station in Buffalo Street, sending a thick cloud of black smoke into the air.
Mawisa said: “The situation in King William's Town subsided after the workers drove to East London.”
Driving back to King William's Town protesters dumped a flaming tyre near the Berlin November racecourse venue. “It was 20 municipal workers in Samwu T-Shirts who burnt a tyre near the freeway but because there were strong winds the smoke engulfed the racecourse, founder Luthando Bara said.
The chaos comes three weeks after Samwu hand-delivered a memorandum with 22 demands and grievances to the municipality. These include:
Hiring of temporary workers;
Bonus payments; and
Scarce skills and danger payments.
BCM mayor Xola Pakati apologised to citizens for any inconvenience cause by the strike.
“We understand that some businesses had to close shop due to the mass action. It is our plea that the municipal workers who feel that they are exercising their right to protest should do so within the labour laws and should not infringe on the rights of others.”
He added that it was an unprotected strike as no dispute had been declared.
Samwu regional secretary Zolani Ndlela, who is the only one authorised to speak to the media, didn't pick up his cellphone on Tuesday...