Gun was pointed at us, strikers state

The son of a Port Elizabeth steel company owner allegedly pointed a firearm at striking workers in a tense stand-off in the presence of public order police.

Police are investigating the incident.

The Agni Steel SA plant in the Coega Industrial Development Zone has been the site of numerous protests over the past few months.

Police confirmed that members of the Public Order Policing Unit had witnessed the incident last Friday and that a complaint had been lodged with Swartkops police.

Agni Steel – which refines and exports steel – has denied the allegations.

Employees have been protesting over pay and working conditions.

About 270 workers downed tools on December 8.

The alleged firearm incident occurred soon after workers had finished a meeting.

Sikho Jama, a shop steward with the Liberated Metalworkers Union of SA, said a colleague had climbed into her vehicle to drive home.

“Suddenly, we noticed a company vehicle blocked the lady from proceeding,” he said.

“We decided to go and see what was happening.

“The son of one of the company owners emerged from a car brandishing a big firearm, which he pointed in our direction.

“What made us angry was that this happened in the presence of the police, who failed to check whether the firearm was licensed and belonged to him or his father.”

It has not yet been established what type of firearm was allegedly pointed other than witnesses describing it as “long”.

Zahir Khan – one of the owners of Agni Steel – declined to comment, referring inquiries to human resources manager Mncedisi Papu.

Papu said he had been present at the time of the alleged incident, but that no such thing had happened.

“We were escorting a [company] bakkie so that it would not be stoned by striking workers.” But Jama was adamant. “If Papu denies it ever happened, then why did we even bother to go and report it at the Swartkops police station?” he said.

Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said members of the Public Order Policing Unit had been sent to the premises due to a volatile situation and were present when a man brandished a “long firearm”.

“The unit itself does not open dockets hence the complainant was referred to the Swartkops police station,” Beetge said.

“We can confirm a charge of pointing of a firearm was opened at Swartkops based on the allegation.”

With regard to the strike, Jama said employees alleged that the working conditions were atrocious and that they were all classed as “general workers”, irrespective of their education and qualification.

They also wanted an increase in the hourly rate from the R31.01 offered by the company to R40.47.

Papu said it was illogical for employees to strike at this time of the year. “The principle of no work, no pay applies,” he said.

“Our employees are misled by union officials.

“People do not have money to buy food or clothing for Christmas.

“We urge those who are not affiliated to the union to return to work, and the unionised members to speak to their union and go back to work.”

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