chaos as strike fever grips sa

THOUSANDS of striking municipal workers took ownership of the country's streets and wreaked havoc in major cities yesterday, leaving behind piles of rubbish as they marched.

THOUSANDS of striking municipal workers took ownership of the country's streets and wreaked havoc in major cities yesterday, leaving behind piles of rubbish as they marched.

And they promised to keep "trashing the streets" until their demands are met.

They littered the streets by overturning dustbins, dumping rubbish at various municipal offices and tormenting their colleagues who had reported for work.

This was despite the union leadership having promised that the strike would be peaceful.

In some instances police had to use force and also arrest "rowdy" protesters.

In Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, a woman died after a truck allegedly crushed her against a wall while she tried to avoid litter that was thrown in her direction by the protesters.

In Pretoria, police had to use rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse violent protesters.

The marchers belonged to Cosatu's South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and Fedusa's Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu).

They comprised garbage collectors, maintenance workers, electricians, those from water and sanitation, emergency services, health and general office workers.

Police officers and marshals watched helplessly in Johannesburg as marchers emptied bins on to the streets.

Shopkeepers were advised by marshals to take food off the pavements and close restaurants and shops in the face of the oncoming marchers.

"I cannot believe this. We campaign for a clean city and they do this?" said a Joburg hawker.

The unions are demanding a 13percent pay increase, housing subsidy, R5000 minimum wage and a R3000 accommodation allowance.

They also want all vacancies to be filled at all municipalities.

The employer body, the SA Local Government Association, has revised its offer to 11,5percent from 10,5percent.

Salga said this was an across-the-board increase, with another 1,5percent in January next year.

The organisation said yesterday that "it had moved with speed" on the matter because of concerns that the strike would have "a negative impact on service delivery".

l In Gauteng, the workers marched to municipal offices in towns and cities and delivered a memorandums.

In Johannesburg they marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown to mayor Amos Masondo's office in Braamafontein.

Jorrisen Street in Braamfontein, which has two other municipal offices, was the most littered.

The marchers called on "amagundwane" (non-strikers) to "come down and stop working".

Masondo, who is also chairperson of Salga, received the memorandum, but said municipalities were "operating under difficult circumstances across the country" and promised a "win-win" solution for the parties.

In Pretoria, police had to use water cannon to stop the crowd from toppling rubbish bins along Proes and Schubart streets as they made their way back to their gathering point.

Workers also marched in Ekurhuleni and the Vaal region. Theirs were peaceful marches.

l In KwaZulu-Natal, workers handed over memorandums to their respective municipal bosses. Streets were littered in KwaDukuza, on the North Coast.

Around 50 workers were arrested in Empangeni for "being involved in an illegal strike".

Skeletal staff reported for work in Durban, while Pietermaritzburg ground to a halt as workers stayed away from work.

l In Western Cape workers marched from Bellville station to the civic centre after they were denied permission to march to Salga's provincial office.

l In Polokwane, Limpopo, the strike turned violent and police had to use rubber bullets to calm the situation.

Police said strikers vandalised Polokwane municipal property and other surrounding properties. They said two marchers were injured during the shooting and 25 were arrested. - Getrude Makhafola, Sne Masuku, Mary Pappaya, Anna Majavu, Riot Hlatshwayo, Chester Makana, Ntwaagae Seleka, Dan Fuphe and Sipho Masombuka