Estella Naicker
3 minute read
8 Oct 2019
1:14 pm

Cases opened after confrontation between Newcastle councillors, staff turns violent

Estella Naicker

At some point during the numerous scuffles which broke out, a pistol was fired, allegedly by a municipal security guard.

Newcastle Municipality Mayor Dr Ntuthuko Mahlaba addresses his supporters outside court, after his murder case was postponed.

Cases of assault, attempted murder and pointing of a firearm were opened at Newcastle SAPS following a violent confrontation between municipal staff and councillors last week, reports Newcastle Advertiser.

Newcastle mayor Dr Ntuthuko Mahlaba also opened a case after a rock was hurled at his face by a woman who, police said, later came forward and handed herself in.

Crates were among the projectiles staff launched at councillors attempting to depart the Newcastle Show Grounds, at the conclusion of a council meeting on Wednesday.

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At some point during the numerous scuffles which broke out, a pistol was fired, allegedly by a municipal security guard.

Some said he fired at an individual, while others claimed he fired a warning shot into the ground, to ward off further physical attacks on the speaker, Samekelisiwe Yende, and the mayor.

While it is unclear who started the fight, video footage shows a municipal guard kicking a firefighter. Later on in the same video, guards went around telling individuals, “Hello!” which many construed to be a threat.

“What they were trying to say was, ‘We saw you. We know who you are, so watch out’,” said Samwu (South African Municipal Workers Union) secretary Jabu Mokoena.

Responding to questions regarding the violent confrontation between council bodyguards and municipal staff, municipal head of communications, Dr Dumisani Thabethe claimed the bodyguards had acted in defence and believed the firefighter had, in fact, started the fight.

Cllr Mahlaba said it was important to respect the fact that the bodyguards had a job to do.

“They can’t stand by while their principals are being assaulted,” he stated. “Which employee has permission to assault his boss?”

Cllr Mahlaba added no one was allowed to hold another hostage.

“That is a serious offence. We need to understand we all have rights. I witnessed the firefighter starting the assault and the bodyguard responded accordingly. I even pulled him away. Workers must not play victims for acting outside the law.”

The firefighter in the video, Jabu Mazibuko, who is seen falling to the ground after being kicked in the abdomen, declined to comment on the incident, saying he did not want to jeopardise the case of assault he had opened at Newcastle SAPS.

The bodyguard was also given an opportunity to comment, via official correspondence with the speaker’s office, but no comment was received at the time of print.

Last week’s commotion arose from a protest, which began when municipal employees were not paid in full for the overtime they worked during the month of September and saw councillors being held hostage at the Show Grounds, where the council chambers are situated.

Upset staff from the community services department, including firefighters, traffic police and refuse removers, blocked the exits to the premises with municipal vehicles, including fire engines and refuse trucks, while the Council meeting was underway.

“There is no councillor, be it the mayor, deputy mayor or speaker, who pays salaries,” said Dr Mahlaba, suggesting the anger of the staff was misdirected. “Some workers live beyond their salaries and even demand wrong overtime hours.”

While municipal staff were blocking the exits to the Show Grounds, within the council chambers, a forensic report detailing municipal corruption was tabled by Dr Mahlaba.

This followed an important discussion on cost-saving measures which needed to be implemented in the Adjustment Budget, in order for the municipality to be able to afford to pay Eskom.

The violent reaction of the security guards eventually forced the mob of protesters to disperse, and the next day, 73 municipal employees – believed to have been involved in the protest – received suspension letters.

As a result, services such as refuse removal could not be carried out last week and are unlikely to take place this week.

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