In a tense turn of events, approximately 100 public employment programme (PEP) workers, donned in blue overalls, confronted eThekwini municipality officials at the Lion Match offices near Moses Mabhida stadium on Wednesday. The workers, retrenched from their temporary positions in waste collection and service delivery, were seeking answers regarding their unpaid wages and abrupt termination of contracts.
These retrenched workers claim that despite submitting a memorandum at the end of November 2023, the municipality failed to respond to their concerns. Frustrated by what they describe as a series of empty promises, the group decided to take matters into their own hands, marching about three kilometers to the ANC provincial offices.
The eThekwini municipality, facing financial constraints, announced in early October 2023 that it had exhausted funds allocated to the PEP, a component of the Presidential Employment Stimulus package initiated by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020.
Upon reaching the ANC offices, the workers were met with disappointment as they were informed that the leadership was still engaged in the party’s 112th celebrations. It was during their march, while walking along the pavement, that metro police officers intervened, allegedly dispersing the crowd with rubber bullets. Protesters claim that three individuals sustained minor injuries as a result.
Gweba Buhle, one of the workers who faced rubber bullets, expressed his intention to file a case against the officers involved, stating that the shots were fired “without any warning.” Contrary to this, Metro Police spokesperson Boysie Zungu acknowledged the use of rubber bullets but insisted that no injuries were reported.
In response to the incident, Nhlanhla Khumalo, spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal labor department, assured that the workers’ complaints have been referred to Inspection and Enforcement Services for investigation. “The Provincial Chief Inspector will dispatch officials and an inspection team. Once a preliminary report is available, it shall be shared,” Khumalo stated.
The question of the municipality’s responsibility for the financial predicament leading to the retrenchments, the appropriateness of police intervention, and the ANC’s delayed response to the workers’ grievances remains at the forefront. As investigations unfold, the affected workers continue to grapple with the uncertainty surrounding their employment status and the incident that unfolded during their march.