INTERVIEW: Midrand Workers’ Reinstatement Campaign

In 2018 a 24 year campaign for the reinstatement of Johannesburg municipal workers ended in an agreement for their reinstatement. Today the Midrand Workers are all members of the Democratic Municipal Workers Union of SA (Demawusa). We spoke with STENA MOLEPO, convenor of the Midrand Workers, for an update on the reinstatement process and other issues facing the workers.

Since the interview was first published in Izwilabasebenzi the incoming Johannesburg mayoral committee has committed to the immediate absorption of the 224 workers still awaiting new posts. In addition, the forensic report mentioned in the interview has been completed and will be released shortly.

Q. The last time Izwi spoke to you, you were expecting the 280 Midrand workers to be absorbed by the municipality before the end of July 2018. Did that happen?

A. Things are difficult. Only 56 of the 280 workers have been absorbed so far. We thought everyone who sat around the table to reach the settlement between the workers and the metro would be hands-on. But we found out along the way that there were endless futile meetings, mess-ups and delays – until last month, October 2019.

I emailed the City Manager to complain, and copied other officials and the Midrand workers themselves to outline and complain about the slow process of absorption, the lack of communication and information. I even named some of the officials who seemed to be deliberately delaying the absorption process. But in informal meetings, one director has disclosed that R44 million has indeed been allocated to settle the dispute.

Q. Where are the 56 working?

A. The metro’s offer was that we must surrender our qualifications – as artisans and everything – and come on board as general workers. All of us are employed as general workers under different departments, City Parks, museums, libraries etc. I am working at Group Human Capital Management.

Q. Has the metro given any updates on when the remaining workers will be absorbed?

A. I’ll be meeting them on 11 November and submitting the list of names of those still without work.

Q. Please tell us about the forensic investigation.

A. There are two parts to this – the first is our unfair dismissal, and second our pension money.

We were told by [the DA’s Joburg mayor] Mashaba that we were heroes because we didn’t submit to corruption. We declared we would rather die poor than kneel down to a corrupt system. So they said in one meeting that we should be given the dignity we deserve and compensated for being unfairly dismissed.

On the pensions, someone has signed for our pension funds somewhere and we want to know who. We ended up being told that the metro has no jurisdiction over people who are no longer their employees.

But the whole investigation has been slow. Slow! The first assigned investigating officer dumped the project and went looking for greener pastures as Chief Director of Dept. of Transport.

Q. The Midrand workers are members of the Demawusa union. In fact they founded it. What is the latest?

A. We are fighting for recognition across the metro. But whether we are recognised or not we are there in the workplaces.

Q. We have heard that Demawusa may be merging with another Saftu affiliate, Matuswa.

A. According to me the union is a non-entity. Why? Remember, we were all municipal employees and members of Samwu. But when we were dismissed many years ago Samwu unionists didn’t care about us. We warned them there was an epidemic of corruption in local government and a complicit trade union bureaucracy that needs to be challenged on this.

Matusa’s story starts only when the issue of Samwu workerss ‘missing millions’ came up. When workers, shop stewards and officials requested audited statements to check how many members Samwu has and how much money is in the coffers they were dismissed, suspended and expelled from the union. Only then we started to gain ground. We told them that Samwu leadership was compromised many years ago.

But we regrouped with them and embarked on a Save Our Samwu campaign in 2014/15. We took the NOBs and their ‘consultant’ to court. He was arrested and charged with extortion of money.

In the course of that campaign, whilst we were in an out of court, the workers decided that there is nothing to save in Samwu. When workers reached that pint we said why don’t we find a new home and start a new union. This is when these non-entities found their way. One of the core founders of Matusa met some lawyers and registered this union with the intention to impose it on the frustrated workers. But workers are not fools. Workers became aware that there was a union, but they said “no, we need to meet and discuss the way forward”. We held a meeting at Museum Africa in Newtown. To the proposal that we just join Matusa, workers said “no, we need to start a union, that union [Matusa] has no mandate from the workers”. Workers took the democratic decision to found Demawusa. We are worried that these methods are just business unionism. So it is difficult. Right now though, I would say those frustrated Matusa members should join Demawusa.

Q. The government is talking austerity. It seems inevitable that the ANC government will take the axe to public spending and that will likely fall hardest on municipal workers. Are workers prepared to fight government austerity?

A. Workers are leaderless. We need a revolution from below, especially in local government. Everyone can see that these elites, the ANC – the ruling party – has lost touch with reality. Workers will fight.

Q. As you indicate, the question of political representation is decisive. The Working Class Summit process seems to have stalled. What is your view on hesitations of Saftu leadership?

A. As I have said, the working class is leaderless. Its high time to avoid blame game mentality. As a member of the MWP I say that we push for the implementation of the WCS resolutions. Remember, there was sanity around the question of a workers party. Only to find out there was this thing that was going to be imposed on us – the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party. Everybody rejected that. That is why they performed so badly in the last elections. We were supposed to go for a second Summit, but now we hear that rather we are going to a Symposium next year. Ok, let’s push for engagements on the workers party and socialism there. But we don’t want petty bourgeois socialism we want real socialism and internationalism.