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A group of municipal workers from the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) participated in an illegal strike on 27 July in Stellenbosch, where they demanded salary increases, which were recently denied by the National Treasury, due to negotiations that the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) had with the National Treasury. 

The negotiations entail that municipalities are expected to adjust their budgets downward because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country due to a decline in the expected revenue accumulation, according to Kgomotso Letsatsi, the executive director of SALGA. 

Protesters walked around the Stellenbosch CBD, from as far as Cluver Street to Plein Street. The Stellenbosch Municipality was quick to respond to the protest, by tweeting that they “strongly condemn the destruction of property witnessed today. Appropriate action will be taken against anyone found guilty of destroying property”.

The municipality added that “[they] will continue with open and fair discussions with aggrieved officials and unions whilst we await the decision from a national level.” 

SAMWU, which is a workers’ union with an affiliation with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU),  responded by saying they are “angered and agitated following our rejection of proposals,” and they claim that SALGA sees municipal workers as “easy targets and can be blackmailed into forgoing their salary increments”.

The protesters left behind a trail of destruction, with items that were burnt, refuse bags that were opened and content from the refuse bags that were thrown around during the protest on the streets. Graham Thompson, third BAcc student, described the area as “littered with rubbish”.

Stellenbosch Municipality updated the community an hour later on Monday by tweeting, “area cleaning crews are cleaning the streets where a group of workers participated in an illegal strike today,” and that “[the] National Treasury recommended that no municipality should implement salary increases”. 

Stellenbosch municipality released a statement the following Thursday, titled “Stellenbosch will not be held hostage by a small group of workers on an illegal strike,” by Geraldine Mettler, the municipal manager. According to the statement a group of workers from the Beltana municipal depot are refusing to work since the municipality has not granted a salary increase. 

Mettler states that “the three-year salary and wage agreement concluded in 2018 provides a 6.25% increase for the 2020/21 financial year, which started on 1 July 2020. Given the economic situation in the country and the impact of the COVID pandemic on all local governments across the country, the municipality submitted an exception application in terms of the collective agreement”. Mettler repeats what the municipality had tweeted on Monday, that the National Treasury has advised that no municipality should implement salary increases. 

The statement claims that as a result of the refusal to work, they will employ and make use of a private contractor to ensure services such as refuse removal are maintained. Mettler states that the refuse removal service had to be suspended on 30 July due to “intimidation and violence by some aggrieved municipal workers”. 

In a Facebook post of 31 July, the municipality added that they obtained a court interdict to “prevent any further sabotaging and disruptions”, and the newly appointed private waste contractor worked into the weekend to address the service backlogs.

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