Valentine’s Day was not a day of love between the City of Joburg and the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) after the city disconnected the electricity supply at the union’s head office.
This prompted Samwu to declare war on the metro council and mayor Herman Mashaba.
Samwu general secretary Simon Mathe said City Power officials disconnected the power on Valentine’s Day and claimed angrily it was part of an attempt to destabilise Samwu.
“They disconnected our electricity because they are bitter that we obtained a court order to attach their bank account, as they owed one of our members R1.6 million.
“The truth of the matter is that this illegal action by the City is retaliation,” Mathe said.
The city said in a statement yesterday it had disconnected the service to the union headquarters because Samwu owed R1.2 million for electricity, water, sewer, rates and refuse services. The city said it was essential for all its customers to pay for services to ensure the sustainability of services to all residents.
It said Samwu, as a key city stakeholder and prominent organisation in the country, must lead by example and pay its municipal bills.
“By not paying for municipal services, it ultimately disadvantages the same workers it aims to represent. This also reduces the city’s ability to draw revenue, which can be used to deliver quality services,” a city statement read.
But Mathe said the metro’s claim that the union owed it R1.2 million was false. Union spokesperson Papikie Mohale said it was the first time the city had released a statement on how much a client owed and stated that the client had been disconnected due to non-payment.
According to an invoice, which The Citizen has seen, dated February 4 2019, Samwu owed the city R38 411.03. The union last made a payment on January 28 of R13 224.89.
Mathe said this clearly showed Mashaba was being vindictive to Samwu as there were companies and government departments that owed millions to the city, but it had not switched off their power supplies or issued a media statement giving details about their debts.
“This is part of a war between us and the City of Joburg – and particularly Mashaba. Now that they have declared war, we are gunning for Mashaba,” he said.
He accused the city of trying to embarrass the union by issuing a media statement instead of resolving the matter with Samwu.
He said the fight between the union and Mashaba began when he refused to recognise its leadership, accusing it of being illegitimate. The union challenged him in court and the Labour Court, the Labour Appeal Court and the Constitutional Court had declared the union leadership to be legitimate.
For the past 19 months, Mathe said, Mashaba had been withholding union subscriptions from Samwu although the municipality was deducting the payments from the wages of their members.
“We instructed our attorneys to make a contempt of court application against Mashaba and the city manager for not paying us our members’ subscriptions. They are withholding it because they say we are not the legitimate leaders of Samwu despite the court rulings,” Mathe said.
Union spokesperson Papikie Mohale said the City Power officials who disconnected the electricity supply were shown an invoice sent by the city and proof of payment by Samwu, but ignored it.
“They insisted they were instructed by their superiors to disconnect the power by any means.
“They illegally disconnected our electricity supply on the instruction of their seniors,” Mohale said.
The city defended the action, saying it could not carry debt backlogs.