Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Striking Security Guards On Rampage In Cape Town

A Little History For The Uninformed
Feel free to scroll down if you already know some of this:
About six weeks ago security guards all over South Africa went on strike to demand an 11% pay increase, amongst other things. They held marches and protest action in various cities around South Africa, including Cape Town.

My sister works at a graphic design company that has two offices near the top of Adderley Street, the main street that runs through Cape Town, straight to the parliament buildings. The one office, which deals with walk-in customer requests, amongst other things, such as photocopying and laminating, has an entrance directly off Adderley Street. The other office, where the graphic designers work on design jobs for clients, is a block away from Adderley Street.

Protest marches and strikes are often held in Cape Town, and marchers will usually march down Adderley Street to present their demands or requests to a government representative who will come form parliament. They will makes some speeches, and occasionally make a bit of noise as they chant and sing but, for the most part, the marches happen and then are over. The media covers the event, and they appear on that night's TV broadcasts and in the next day's newspapers.

However, on this occasion a few weeks ago at the start of the protest action, the marching security guards swarmed down the street chanting and dancing (known as toyi-toying) brandishing traditional weapons. My sister happened to be in the office that opens on to Adderley Street as the marchers came past, and the staff all watched in horror as they swamped an informal trader named Mohammed who has a stall outside their building that sells chips, cigarettes, sweets and other small items to passing trade. It is how he makes his living and it's his only form of income. Some of the marchers grabbed his merchandise and trashed his stall. A number of protesters went into my sister's company's store and began to intimidate the people inside, especially when they noticed a black man inside - one of the company's cutters/finishers (in other words, he is an artisan). Because he is black, they all assumed he was a non-striking security guard, so they began to threaten him and made motions with their fingers across their throats that they were going to come back and kill him. They were then swept off with the rest of the protesters and continued with their march. The shops and offices nearby, including that of my sister, began closing up and shutting their safety gates, and passing members of the public not involved in the action ducked inside in fear of their lives.

The police in the area, according to my sister, stood around with their weapons and did very little to contain the situation that was increasingly turning violent.

The protest, meanwhile, moved farther on down the road and eventually dissipated after the official speeches and demands had been made, leaving the members of the public and the nearby shopkeepers and office workers extremely shaken.

Since the action started there have been other incidents around the country. A group of thousands ransacked the Department of Labour offices in Durban and about 500 protesters were arrested. A number of security guards have chosen not to strike, and have been intimidated and threatened by the striking guards. In my building, as well as a number of other places, guards no longer wear their uniforms as they can't be seen in public for fear of being attacked. Non-striking guards have been thrown off trains and attacked at their homes and places of work.

Today's Rampage
Today another march was held in Cape Town. It was scheduled to start at 10am but started over an hour late. Thousands of people once again marched down Adderley Street and, once again, my sister, plus almost all the rest of the staff from the graphic design office, happened to be in the Adderley Street office as the protest started.

The march immediately turned violent, and marchers began smashing nearby cars and shop windows. A window belonging to the company my sister works for was smashed as she was standing about three feet away from it, and then a second window was smashed, leaving glass about 6mm thick littering the office and pavement. All the shops in the area once again shut their doors and closed their safety gates in fear of everyone's safety. The police force was out in full gear with weaponry, but only began firing after both the office windows had already been smashed, as well as windows belonging to other companies, and most of the cars in the area had already been trashed. There was also a police helicopter circling the area. At some point a journalist on the scene covering the march was injured and taken to hospital.

Again, the march dissipated, leaving a trashed city behind. As my sister says: "It looks like a hurricane has gone down Adderley Street. It's just broken glass and f***ed up cars."

About an hour later many shops in Cape Town that are usually open were locked down with notices such as "Closed until further notice due to unrest" stuck to the doors.

And now, at 13:15, a second police helicopter has flown - incredibly low - into the city. The two helicopters are circling the city, presumably looking for suspects. We can also hear sirens in the distance.

Above: A broken shop window. My sister was standing about where the man on the right is now standing as the window was smashed.

Above: The second smashed window. The man on the right wearing the dark top is an employee of the company where my sister works. He was threatened by the marchers during the last protest march a few weeks ago as they presumed he was a non-striking security guard, just because he is black.

Above: An exterior view of one of the smashed windows.

Above: Smashed cars in Adderley Street, Cape Town. (The photographs have been oversharpened to bring out the detail of the glass.)

Above: Cape Town's police force barricades the top of Adderley Street.

Photograph credits: Shaun and Andrew (thanks!)

Breaking News From The Web
Mail & Guardian Online: Striking guards cause chaos in Cape Town
News24: Striking guards smash cars, attack journo
IOL: Cops try abate Cape strike chaos

Background Information
Commentary South Africa: The Security Guards' Strike
Green Left: 'We guard billions, but are paid peanuts'
IOL: Striking guards lash out at working friends


Blogger kyknoord said...

Whatever sympathy I had for these fuckers evaporated very swiftly after their so-called "peaceful" protest.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 9:45:00 AM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

Agreed. When the striking first started I was appalled to hear what they earn, amongst other things, but I have no more sympathy. These are not people I would want to hire to protect my family or my business or my property.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Francois Maree said...

Why am I not surprised that the police cannot do much about that? If I don't watch South African news websites I never hear about any of these things happening.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 4:11:00 AM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

The problem is more that they stood around too long choosing not to do anything (especially the first time) and, the second time, even though everyone else in the city suspected that the march may be a problem (and a lot of stores closed before it started) the police "weren't expecting it" and were underdeployed. They eventually started firing, though, and a few people were injured (and about 35 (?) were arrested).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Francois Maree said...

Man if they didn't write off my black van I would have sent it in to do some undercover spying and "cleanup".

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 3:36:00 AM  

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