Police Repression in South Africa

April 13, 2010

From the Daily Dispatch:

ONE person was injured and 10 others arrested as a march by striking Buffalo City municipal workers turned violent on the streets of East London yesterday.

About 60 workers had gathered to picket outside municipal offices on the corner of Oxford Street and Caxton Street…Buffalo City police arrived on the scene within an hour, but at that point the protest was still peaceful.

The crowd then marched along Oxford Street, overturned rubbish bins and scattered litter into the street, which in turn halted traffic…Traffic officers were forced to divert vehicles into side streets and police followed as the crowd continued to march.

Police then warned the municipal workers to disperse, but they refused to move…Two shots were then fired into the ground, sending the crowd running. One person was injured in the process and the police proceeded to make arrests.

…Provincial chairperson for Samwu David Toyis said the organisation slammed the use of violence against the workers and maintained the strike was legal…“The strike was legally protected, so we condemn the use of any force on the workers.”

Samwu activists have called a nationwide strike against SALGA, the South African Local Government body, which the union accuses of stalling on introducing a long-promised wage scale which will see municipal workers much better off. It also accuses local government bosses of hiring lawyers expressly to “dismiss workers at all costs” – targeting activists in order to reduce pressure to increase wages.

Police in East London showed today how determined the establishment is to keep such demands in check. The South African press has been cheering them on (including the dismal Daily Dispatch quoted from above, which leads with the headline “Money drives Samwu again“).

But workers are organizing to meet such challenges, in a difficult and often dangerous environment where protections for unionists are extremely tenuous. Johannesburg Metrorail, for example, has said that “all striking workers would be dismissed unless they could give adequate reasons for staying away from work during the two-week strike” while “between 300 and 500 letters of dismissal would be distributed to Metrorail employees who had been absent from work.”

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