Article written

  • on 12.11.2015
  • at 03:35 PM
  • by Kimberley Evans

Stun grenades whizz again, Riah Phiyega hung out to dry 0

For the second time in recent weeks, the parliamentary precinct echoed to the sound of stun grenades on Wednesday as riot police sought to disperse protesters. On this occasion, they were not students, but striking Parliament workers. As police kept a tense vigil outside, the Minister of Police explained to MPs and journalists the damning findings of an inquiry into police commissioner Riah Piyega.

As writer Thando Mgqolozana wryly observed on Twitter, the firing of stun grenades is fast replacing the noon gun as Cape Town’s most recognisable sound. On Wednesday they made an appearance in Parliament once again, this time deployed against Parliamentary workers who are striking for an annual bonus.

The strike in Parliament has been critically affecting the scheduling of what is a very busy time of year for committees concluding reviews, and debating budgets. It means, too, that there have been no translation services available in the National Assembly; something exploited by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) for political mileage, and their own amusement.

The striking workers are being coordinated by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, Nehawu. Wednesday morning saw several hundred workers dancing and singing in the Parliamentary precinct, before a breakaway group entered different committee meetings, in turn, to ensure that no essential services were being provided. By noon, the atmosphere had become more volatile, though workers carried no weapons and appeared to pose no direct threat to police.

Parliament went into lockdown after riot police fired stun grenades, with one researcher dragged away by police with blood spotting his shirt. Some Members of Parliament – notably the United Democratic Movement’s Nqabaymozi Kwankwa – attempted to make peace between police and workers. Others took a more condemnatory approach.

“The wrong thing that they did.… was for them to storm into committee meetings,” ANC deputy chief whip, Doris Dlakude, told journalists, as workers milled around, and were intermittently addressed by Nehawu’s leadership.

The central grievance of the strike revolves around annual performance bonuses, with workers claiming that an agreed-upon bonus has not been implemented as negotiated. There are also mutterings about the rigorous security vetting processParliament staffers have had to undergo recently. One rumour doing the rounds has it that the process has cost R80 million. If Parliament has money for this, the argument goes, why not for decent bonuses?

The figure at the heart of the contention is Parliament Secretary Gengezi Mgidlana, who has been in his job for just less than a year. Mgidlana is widely disliked, seen as arrogant and dictatorial. When Parliament’s Nehawu chairperson, Sthembiso Tembe, told a workers’ meeting held mid-afternoon: “Mgidlana must go!”, he received the biggest cheer of the day.

Dlakude would proceed to assure MPs in the National Assembly that workers had promised not to disrupt committee meetings on Thursday. That was not what Tembe told workers, however. If management did not come to the table, he vowed that Parliamentary meetings would receive visitors on Thursday, once again. He added that reinforcements from Nehawu’s national branch would be forthcoming.

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by Rebecca Davis

Photo credits The Daily Maverick

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi