South African Municipal Workers Trash Towns in Dirty Protest

There were lines of vehicles backed up and all traffic lights were out in Nelspruit as I drove through the city Monday morning.   About an hour later I arrived in Barberton, a small town near the Swaziland border, where the main road was blocked by burning tires, piles of rocks, cut down trees and piles of trash. 

Burning tires in the street
It was Monday, July 27, and that morning over 150,000 South African municipal workers throughout every province in the country went on strike and trashed cities and towns throughout the country.  They were protesting after wage agreement negotiations failed between the South African Local Government Association and South African Municipal Workers' Union.  The municipal workers rejected an offer of an 11.5% wage increase and were demanding a 15% increase.

tim 620427 (1).jpg
Jaco is Corrupt & SAMWU Demands
15% painted on the street
I camped in a park in Barberton on the edge of town on the main road for the next two nights and each morning woke up to a crowd of municipal workers marching down the street, chanting and dumping bags of trash in the street.  Downtown they were doing more of the same, cutting down more trees to drag in the road and burning tires and garbage cans.

Two protestors work together to cut
down trees to block roads
Armed private security personnel closed roads and redirected traffic as the group moved throughout the town.  The reactions of the non-protesting citizens in the town was quite mixed.  There were plenty of racist and degrading comments, many people were scared of the protesters, some were curious and observed the activities from behind the protection of armed security guards, some shook their head in disgusts, and others sympathized with the municipal workers despite their trashing of the town.

The protests continued for five days until SAMWU agreed to a 13% wage increase on Friday afternoon.  The streets in many areas remained a mess with trash, broken bottles, burnt tires and overturned garbage cans until those on garbage duty returned to work on Monday morning.

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Hi, John!
I am happy to see, not only that you are doing well and that everything is going fine, but also that your trip is full of content! I am jealous of the experiences you are living, that is an awesome opportunity and you are really making the most of it!


We are so lucky to be able to follow your journey, take care and God Bless...

Tom & Linda


Quite interesting, well I just wanted some songs and got your blog. Thanks for this one mate I just loved it.

This is my first time to visit your blog and was amazed by the story and the photos you've posted. Seems to be that protests are already at every corner of the world now. People seem to disagree on lots of things. It could be because the plea of the workers are falling on deaf ears or because the Local government's negotiation was not well-thought of.

Hewlett from Épilation intégrale

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Taking off to some unidentified place in the heart of Africa – somewhere with no electricity, no running water and at least one week’s journey from anything resembling a city has been a long time dream of mine.

My name is John Bradley and in May 2009, I left my job in Chicago, sold my car, moved everything else I owned into my grandma’s basement and flew to Africa. I plan to take roughly one year to overland on a budget from Cape Town to Cairo. I do not have an itinerary; I have no idea where I will be five days from now. My path is guided by the attempt to balance the urge to see and experience as much as I can with the desire to travel slowly and close to the ground.

This is where I will post my stories, photos, and videos as I move along on my journey. Feel free to post comments or send me an email with any thoughts or suggestions.

Current location: Coffee Bay, South Africa

Distance traveled: 42,790 km

Days on the road: 366

(last updated 5/16/10)

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