Hundreds of members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) marched to the Cape Town Civic Centre to deliver a memorandum of demands to city officials last Thursday morning.
The march was organised to draw attention to the grievances of firefighters who are ‘overworked and underpaid’. Taxify, Uber and striking MyCiti employees also joined the march to show their support.
SAMWU’s Xolani Diniso said firefighters are not paid overtime and the allowance that is given in lieu of overtime is not sufficient. The protest came days after a devastating fire tore through Khayelitsha’s Town 2, leaving thousands homeless and killing resident Sango Nqeneka, a backyard dweller, on Saturday 20th October.
Another blaze in Kosovo, an informal settlement in Philippi, destroyed over 120 shacks and displaced over 1,400 people on Sunday 21st. The demand from firefighters in Cape Town follows a similar demand in Johannesburg after a fire at the Bank of Lisbon building claimed the lives of three firefighters.
‘We are a critical service and we want to be paid for the hours we work,’ said Diniso.
‘When firefighters work on a public holiday, they are not paid overtime. How can you be paid an allowance? We must be paid overtime … We provide an important service to working class citizens.’
Their list of demands includes the end of exploitation of firefighters, abolishment of clocking machines and an end to the relocation of staff without proper consultation, among others.
‘We find ourselves here to voice our concerns and displeasure in how the city is treating us. ‘They are oppressing us. When there are problems of fires you, the firefighters will be at the forefront,’ Diniso said to the crowd.
Richard Bosman, director of the city’s safety and security directorate, came to collect their list of demands at the Civic Centre steps, but the leaders of the march refused to hand them over to him, saying that Bosman is already aware of their demands and has not responded adequately.
‘Richard Bosman is involved in all the mischief we are fighting against so we can’t give him the memorandum, they must send someone else to come out,’ said Xolile Ncayo, SAMWU regional secretary.
Protesters momentarily blocked Hertzog Boulevard, then a heavy police presence, including more than 15 police vans and two nyalas, contained the demonstrators and pushed them back to the steps of the Civic Centre.
‘You are making us stand in the sun for something that is unnecessary with all the police here. We are your colleagues,’ said Diniso to Employee Relations Manager at City of Cape Town, Wesley van Heerden, City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate member Joe Barnes, and Ernest Sass, Executive Director-Social Development and Early Childhood Development, who eventually came out to meet the demonstrators on the Civic Centre and collected their list of demands.
‘If you stay in Khayelitsha, or Mitchells Plain or Hout Bay Imizamu Yethu, you understand that firefighters are attending to emergencies after hours … ‘The community will suffer if the firefighters are not being paid for the hours they work, the community will suffer. This campaign is a campaign for all,’ said Diniso.
Meanwhile, South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi made the following statement on Saturday 27th October. ‘Watching Tito Mboweni delivering the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement made me remember the chief propagandist of Nazi Germany who once said: “Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.”
‘Armed with a heavy artillery of more than 100 spokespersons trained not to question but to repeat a lie by our universities, an array of business-sponsored experts and our largely untransformed media they own, the beneficiaries of the status quo have internalised Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda strategy.
‘We are told repeatedly that there is no alternative to the current economic policies, despite the overwhelming evidence that they have dismally failed to address the crisis facing the majority. ‘A lie is repeatedly told that there is a looming crisis from our debt-GDP ratio.
‘We are being warned about two countries with high levels of external debt – Turkey and Argentina – which have experienced sharp currency depreciation, rising credit spreads and large capital outflows.
‘But nothing is being said about many successful economies with much higher debt-GDP ratios than South Africa’s relatively low 53%, which is well below the UK’s 83%, the US’s 105%, France’s 97% and Japan’s massive 253%.
‘We are told not to remember that post the 2008 world capitalist crisis and after World War II, many countries used borrowing to recover, relatively successfully, just like president Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. ‘While accumulating debt is not in itself a solution to an economic crisis like South Africa’s, it cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing.
‘From morning to morning, 24/7, we are told a lie so frequently that our corporates are paying far too much tax to justify the VAT increase. ‘Yet South Africa ranks 172 out of 213 countries where one has the highest company tax and 213 the lowest.
‘In 1990, corporate tax was 50% serving a small minority of the population. Today it is 28%.
‘We are told we have very limited resources and that we should live within our means.
‘Any one pointing out that our corporates are hoarding R1.6 trillion in investable cash and that there is an investment strike, is ridiculed as a dangerous socialist who wants to turn South Africa into another Venezuela.
‘There is an extraordinary silence on the loss of revenue as a result of financial outflows, money laundering and tax evasion and from recovering the money stolen through corruption.
‘According to data released by Global Financial Integrity, between 2002 and 2011, South Africa lost more than R1 trillion through illicit cash outflows. ‘Corporations use aggressive tax planning and profit shifting, known as base erosion and profit shifting to dodge tax.
‘The Davies Tax Committee estimated that this cost the country a further R50 billion a year. ‘The Automotive Industry Development Centre provided vivid research on this practice when it exposed how Lonmin was transferring R400 million to R500m a year to its subsidiaries in tax havens.
‘Karl Marx said 140 years ago: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”
‘He was not exaggerating; he could have been writing about South Africa today. ‘According to Oxfam, 26% of South Africa’s population are hungry every day and half do not have sufficient access to affordable, nutritious and safe food to meet the basic health requirements, despite the fact that South Africa is officially food secure and produces enough food to feed the entire population.
‘But every year R61.5bn worth of food is wasted along the production-to-consumption chain. ‘A total of 30.4 million people (55.5% of the population) are living in poverty and by far the biggest cause of these appalling levels of poverty is unemployment at 37.4%, the sixth highest in the world.
‘Unemployment is disproportionately a burden carried more by black people, women and our youth; 41.2% of our women workers are unemployed and youth account for 63.5% of the total number of unemployed persons.
‘Within the youth, those aged 15-24 years are more vulnerable in the labour market with an unemployment rate of over 52%, an absorption rate of about 12.2% and a labour force participation rate of 25.6%.
‘This provides yet more evidence that the economy is sinking further into recession and that, as always, it is workers who are paying the price. ‘These dreadful statistics show the total inadequacy of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Stimulus Plan, which failed to even begin to appreciate the depth of the economic catastrophe, which 24 years of neoliberal capitalist policies has brought about.
‘He promised no additional government resources, just reshuffling budgets to rob Peter to pay Paul. ‘A conversation has to be conducted about the economic crisis and possible solutions. Unfortunately SAFTU, and many more unions, remain locked out of NEDLAC (National Economic Development and Labour Council) where we need to be heard.’