BRIEF | PORT ELIZABETH 

Weekend outages trigger protests in PE

Municipality blames service disruptions on sabotage by workers unhappy with new overtime policy

Photo of a burning barricade
Protesters in Motherwell blocked Tyityaba Street with burning tyres. They said every weekend there were electricity blackouts and water cuts. Photo: Joseph Chirume
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Workers at Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality have for the past four weeks been refusing to work after hours or on weekends. This follows a disagreement over amended overtime regulations.

There have also been electricity outages on weekends, which triggered protests on 6 October in Motherwell and Uitenhage. The protests have been happening every weekend since.

The municipality has accused workers of sabotage. Several water valves were found to have been tampered with, resulting in massive water cuts.

The regional spokesperson for the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU), Mqondisi Nodongwe, said, “If ever there is a person sabotaging the municipality, it is [Athol] Trollip [the mayor] and his directors. They are undermining workers.”

“Trollip and his management have unilaterally introduced and implemented overtime policy that is in violation of the normal working conditions under South African laws,” he said. He accused the municipality of taking a decision based on a statute that should not have applied in this case, because the statute does not take into acount that the workers fall under bargaining sectors.

The municipality’s Vuyo Zitumane, however, said the overtime policy amendments were necessitated by the Auditor-General. She said that a “a significant portion” of the annual budget had been paid irregularly to employees, “above the prescribed annual salary threshold”. She said the new overtime measures would save costs, and be used fund critical jobs in local communities.

Zitumane said, “Disruptions and outages to the services has largely been man-made and malicious. Therefore the public is encouraged to report any suspicious tampering of municipal services.”

Zitumane said the municipality was instituting both criminal and internal investigations “to identify and act against the culprits”.

On Sunday, protesting residents closed roads in Motherwell, including Addo Road, Tyinira and Tyityaba streets. Protester Zukile Xotyana said, “There has been an electricity blackout in NU10,11,12,13 and 29 starting from Friday. What baffles us is that it is happening every weekend.”

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