Embattled municipality yet to pay thousands of workers’ salaries

Workers staged a sit-in at the Matjhabeng municipal headquarters in Welkom to demand that they be paid immediately

By Becker Semela

26 October 2023

Samuel Potsotso Liphoko of SAMWU in Matjhabeng addressing the workers in Welkom during their strike on Wednesday. Photos: Becker Semela

Thousands of Matjhabeng Local Municipality workers are refusing to return to their duties until their outstanding wages are paid.

The workers protested by sitting in at the municipal headquarters in Welkom on Wednesday and again on Thursday to demand that they be paid immediately.

This also follows the suspension of 23 South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) shop stewards on 26 September allegedly for speaking out against the municipality, the union said.

SAMWU’s Lejweleputswa district municipality deputy secretary, Dan Mana, told GroundUp that workers were expecting to get paid on the 25th, but no municipal worker, including the mayor, has been paid yet.

He said the Matjhabeng municipality had ignored all the warning signs after a few of its assets, including a fleet of cars, were attached in ongoing legal court cases with various service providers. The service providers have claimed that the municipality has not paid them. This has resulted in the municipality’s accounts being frozen, according to Mana.

“No one addressed the workers until the pay day. It’s only when we asked that they said that there won’t be any payments,” Mana said.

He blamed Mayor Thanduxolo Khalipha for failing to stop municipal manager Lonwabo Ngoqo from suspending the shop stewards last month.

“These suspensions were metered out against our shop stewards who spoke out against the municipality for deliberately exposing workers to unsafe and healthy working environments.

“They raised a concern with the office of the municipal manager regarding the unavailability of water from 25 to 30 September as the situation posed a significant health risk to the workers in the municipal building,” said Mana. This, he said, was the third time there was a water outage since May this year.

“The first incident was not dealt with. We even had to write to the municipal manager and Labor Department. The second incident was dealt with where mobile toilets were brought in, and now in September it was not dealt with and the toilets were not flushing because there was no water. The whole building was smelling,” he said.

Addressing the workers late on Wednesday, Ngoqo said several service providers have claimed that Matjhabeng owed them a combined total of more than R85-million.

Matjhabeng Municipal Manager Lonwabo Ngoqo addresses workers.

“Since I arrived here in April, I have been dealing with court cases, especially from service providers, some of whom have also sent the sheriff of the court to attach our properties such as cars and others. It led to our account being frozen a day before the wages were to be paid, said Ngoqo.

He said that they approached the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday to grant the municipality urgent relief to access its accounts in order to pay salaries.

“We are working around the clock to ensure that you get paid,” said Ngoqo, who also did not get his salary this month.

Other issues raised by workers included the lack of adequate protective equipment provided by the City as well as cuts to their overtime and travel allowances.

Mayor Mkhaliphi said that protective equipment will be made available soon.

Ngoqo added that some of those in acting posts would soon be appointed permanently but he did not give a precise date.

Meanwhile, in a statement on 22 October, SAMWU blamed the troubles at the municipality on political interference.

“The situation in Matjhabeng is a matter of deep concern for residents and the workers in the municipality. The continuous political interference has left the municipality unable to provide the high-quality services that the community deserves. What’s more, the municipal manager and the executive management have seen their powers and responsibilities stripped away by the ‘war room’,” the statement read.

According to the union, this ‘war room’, consists of the mayor, members of the mayoral committee and political staff in the office of the mayor who “have daily meetings after normal working hours to manage and manipulate municipal affairs, including matters outside of the jurisdiction of the Executive Committee such as collective bargaining”.