Striking Security Guards Wreak Rail Chaos

Guards sabotaged Metrorail trains, placed obstacles on lines


Thousands of commuters will be late for work today after striking security guards ran amok yesterday, sabotaging Metrorail trains and placing obstacles on lines.

Metrorail is running a "limited service" on the key central line between Cape Town, Kapteinsklip and Khayelitsha.

The delays have resulted in a flood of rail passengers switching to Golden Arrow buses, thus leaving many bus commuters stranded.

Buses had been filled to capacity with thwarted rail commuters at the start of some routes, forcing drivers to skip stops along the way where regular passengers were waiting, said Golden Arrow spokesman Vuyisile Mdoda.

The security guards' strike turned violent again yesterday as protesters, many brandishing sjamboks, knobkieries or sticks, broke shop windows, looted goods and stoned police vehicles.

They sabotaged peak-hour trains and placed obstacles on tracks, leaving seven Metrorail trains damaged and thousands of homeward-bound commuters stranded.

At Site B in Khayelitsha, police opened fire and used teargas to disperse a group of security guards who stoned their vehicles. At Nyanga Junction station, where trains were sabotaged, concrete railway sleepers and tree trunks were placed across the central railway lines.

Carriages were stoned. Shop owners at the junction were forced to close their doors as people stormed the shops. And in Philippi, near the industrial section, striking security guards chased down and assaulted colleagues who were on duty, and Shoprite Checkers on Lansdowne Road was looted.

The latest violence has erupted as 40 000 security guards - all members of the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) - began an indefinite nationwide strike in support of demands for a 11% pay rise.

They will continue protests today with marches in towns and cities all over South Africa, after failed negotiations between security company employers and Satawu.

The union has distanced itself from 13 other unions that have called off action after accepting an 8% pay rise. Evan Abrahamse, regional secretary of Satawu, said the strike would continue until employers upped their offer.

"We will will force them back to the table, even if it means striking for weeks," he said yesterday.

Steve Friswell, spokesman for the SA National Security Employers Association (Sansea), who led the negotiations with Satawu, said that talks had ended when 14 of 15 companies signed an agreement on April 1 and there would be no further negotiations.

Satawu security guards will meet at 9am today at Cape Town station and move to Athlone, to picket in front of Sansea offices.

The disgruntled guards are waiting for the city to consider a application asking for permission for a march through the city.

Abrahamse, who claims Satawu has more than 2 000 members in Cape Town, said: "We are a peaceful organisation and before we move from the train station to Athlone ... we will tell all our members to behave."

Commenting on yesterday's chaos, Abrahamse said he had received reports from union members of the police opening fire in Khayelitsha.

Abrahamse claimed that the shooting was unprovoked, but police spokesman Billy Jones said the mob had stoned police vehicles.

"Police used rubber bullets and teargas. There was no live ammunition."

Earlier, Nyanga station was plunged into chaos.

Mehboob Ajmoodien of Halaal Meat World Nyanga Junction said the looters had entered Pick 'n Pay, Pep Stores, Diskom and some of the fleamarket shops.

"They smashed the windows and looted. They came from the railway and marched down the steps. There were women and children that were hurt."

Last night Khayelitsha commuters scrambled from platform to platform searching for a train to take them home.

Commuters were told the power cables had been cut. Commuters who gave up on the trains went to the Nyanga taxi rank, triggering long queues.

Thandeka Mbalo said she feared for her life travelling by train to Khayelitsha but had no other alternative.

This content continues onto the next page...