Sandton skyline, north of Johannesburg, in the area covered by the affected workers – By Walter Theledi 20 Years of Democracy: 20 Years of Struggle: The Midrand Workers Say No More Broken Promises! 2014 marks twenty years since the birth of our democra …

Sandton skyline, north of Johannesburg, in the area covered by the affected workers

Sandton skyline, north of Johannesburg, in the area covered by the affected workers

– By Walter Theledi

20 Years of Democracy: 20 Years of Struggle: The Midrand Workers Say No More Broken Promises!

2014 marks twenty years since the birth of our democracy in South Africa, but for a group of 280 workers it is also a twenty year anniversary of their campaign to win back their jobs.

They are still fighting today!

In 1994, more than 500 workers who were SAMWU members in Midrand Council took industrial action against corruption. They were outraged that senior officers of the Council were receiving kick-backs for jobs and undermining proper recruitment procedures.

The response of the Midrand Town Council was in keeping with the unreformed municipalities of the time. It would take a further two years into our democracy to have non-racial councils. Back then, the municipality simply sacked all of the workers. A little later under pressure from the new non-racist government, under the auspices of a selective redeployment scheme gave a minority their jobs back. The overwhelming majority of workers rejected selected redeployment because they knew their leaders would be victimised.

The matter would have ended there if not for the astonishing resoluteness of the workers themselves. Holding firm to the idea that two wrongs do not make a right, the workers launched a campaign for their jobs back.

Midrand Council was eventually integrated into the new city boundaries and so the workers switched their attention to persuading Joburg City Council to absorb them. After a very sympathetic hearing by the then Mayor, Comrade Amos Masondo, a process was agreed to find ways of absorbing the 280 remaining workers (many of the original 500 plus had retired, or passed away) and to investigate the whereabouts of their pension.

SAMWU and the City worked well together to gather in the details of all the workers concerned, and awaited a report to the Mayoral Committee. Then as now, the elections interceded, and everything ground to a halt, and Mayor Masondo was replaced by Comrade Parks Tau.

After waiting literally years for a proper response from the City, and for sanity to prevail, the Midrand Workers are still campaigning for their jobs. The current Mayor has let them down by accepting a series of bogus arguments from his officials on why the City should not absorb these workers. The officers of the Council have let them down, by being patently dishonest and devious, and hiding the facts from the Mayor and other elected officers. So many promises have been made, and broken. It is time for a proper investigation into why City officials are behaving in this manner!

SAMWU has now committed itself to a massive public campaign, and is now escalating this matter to the National Bargaining Forum to have this dispute settled, and the workers absorbed into City employment as they should have been twenty years ago.

SAMWU is also demanding that those who have been covering up the corruption in the former Midrand be ousted and prosecuted. They are demanding that those ex-officers of Midrand, who have spirited away the pensions of these workers be brought to account. Cases have been lodged with the Office of the Public Protector and the Public Services Commission.

The whole trade union movement has pledged its support to the Midrand Workers, and on May Day this year, special mention will be made of their heroic and historic struggle for jobs and praise will be given for their valiant stand against corruption.

The workers themselves have undergone untold hardship, but continue to meet on a regular basis in large numbers as they have done for the last 20 years in a remarkable show of solidarity and community support.

SAMWU now reiterates its call to the City of Joburg. In this period of electioneering, now is the time for the ANC to agree to settle this matter, and bring relief to these workers and their long suffering families. Now is the time to show that the ANC in government is prepared to listen to workers and those who elect it, and make good a terrible wrong once and for all.

As SAMWU we salute the Midrand Workers. They are heroes of our struggle, and as we celebrate 20 years of democracy, we should also remember those who are still struggling for justice.

• No to corruption then, now or in the future!

• Absorb the Midrand Workers into Joburg City Now!

• No more broken promises!

– Walter Theledi is General Secretary of SAMWU

For more information contact Stephen Faulkner at SAMWU National Office on 0828175455 or Comrade Stanley Molepo, Coordinator Midrand Workers, 0762419767


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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