Striking guards block office entrance, trapping government workers for hours

The guards are demanding their bonuses be paid

By Mkhuseli Sizani

3 March 2023

Police disperse striking security guards on Thursday after they blocked the entrance to the shared offices of the departments of education and health in Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape. They are demanding their bonuses be paid. Photos: Mkhuseli Sizani

At least 30 staff members at the departments of education and health in Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape, were trapped for three hours inside their shared offices by protesting security guards on Thursday.

The protesters, employed by Whispers Security Company to guard health facilities in the community, blocked the gates to the departments’ shared offices on Thursday, demanding they be paid bonuses. They set alight trees and tyres to block the entrance, preventing anyone from leaving.

The security guards have been protesting since Monday. They say a supervisor told them that they won’t get bonuses because the company had not been paid by the Department of Health. This was refuted by the company.

The striking guards said they won’t stop until the health department pays their employer in order for them to get bonuses. Police arrived after hours and removed the protesters from the entrance.

Protester, Thotyelwa Gomi, told GroundUp that the workers have been unhappy with the company’s management since May last year. According to Gomi, the company has a three-year contract with the provincial health department which started in February 2022. The guards are employed are stationed at five clinics, three hospitals and the Emergency Medical Services base.

Gomi said they first held a two-day strike in May last year over the issue of bonuses and reached an agreement with management that they would be paid by March this year.

The gates were blocked with burning tyres and trees.

“But last week our rude supervisors from the East London branch issued us with leave forms and told us to sign them. They also said that the company has no money. We will only get our bonuses in November,” she said.

Gomi said they approached the South African Civic Organization (SANCO) to intervene.

Zwelakhe Stofile, SANCO chairperson in Fort Beaufort, said, “We want this security company’s contract terminated. We tried to call its directors to address the workers but they refused.”

When GroundUp contacted Whispers Security Company, director Oupa Tumaeletsi condemned the workers’ “illegal” strike.

“We have asked the workers to take leave from 1 March. Their bonuses will follow. But they don’t want to listen. We even sent our legal representative to warn them about this illegal action,” he said. Tumaeletsi rubbished claims that they had not yet been paid by the department.

Yonela Dekeda provincial Health spokesperson has not responded to our questions since Wednesday.