Mayhem, Madness… Media Exaggeration?

18 Aug

If you live in the City of Cape Town or anywhere in South Africa you would have noticed that the last few days the news has been inundated with Municipal workers strikes. More importantly the chaotic behaviour displayed on the streets of Cape Town and Durban CBD. News 24 reported that Samwu (South African Municipal Workers Union) accused the media of exaggerating violence claims during their mass action. Was there exaggeration on behalf of the media?

In order to answer my aforementioned question … I will first take a brief look back at what has transpired over the last few days.

Monday, 15 August 2011, Municipal workers swore that service throughout the country would be brought to a severe halt. These seemingly angered individuals demanded for an 18 % or R2 000wage increase and rejected the 6 % offer tabled. Salga responded by increasing the offer to 6.08% and stated that “doors were always open [for talks]”. – News 24, SAPA.

Municipal workers in Cape Town were seen banging on bins, making fires out of trash outside the City’s offices- News 24, SAPA. Etv displayed footage of workers looting stalls, chanting, marching with sticks, smashing municipal cars. They also reported on individual cases where a municipal worker (arriving at work) was attacked for his lack of support for striking colleagues.

In Durban, striking workers were seen trashing streets and allegedly intimidating non-striking workers. Samwu members overturned rubbish bins, and some forced their way into the Durban North Depot where they assaulted people with sjamboks, knobkieries and pangas.- IOL, Daily news.

In a press statement released on the 17 August 2011, Samwu attempted to “put the record straight” and asked the media to respect its contents and not to engage in selective distortion of what Samwu is saying- News 24.

The press statement released by Samwu comes across as a justification for the behaviour of their union members. “Maybe the commentators and others should spend just one shift with the city night cleaners and open their eyes to the appalling conditions they have to endure…. We unblock sewers, we fix pipes in the freezing cold, respond to emergencies and much more… And yet the gap between these vital workers and those who are supposed to manage service delivery is as wide as it was under apartheid. When a street cleaner upturns a rubbish bag, does it not occur to journalist and commentators that this might be an act of defiance of one for being visible, of not being taken for granted? Part of any industrial action is to make visible what it is that workers do, to force awareness on the public of the value of these workers. As a union we do not condone this action, but we at least try and understand it… the union cannot help thinking that the reaction to the trashing is a very class based response.”- News 24.

In my opinion the language used to describe the behaviour of striking municipal workers was accurate. I have heard verbs such as trashed, looting, rampaged, intimidating, and demand being used as the linguistic choice of actions. By definition these linguistic choices perfectly fit the actions of the striking workers. I believe the reporting of the events surrounding the march were not distorted or exaggerated.  Without the accompanying footage and pictures of the looting, trashing and burning of trash the accusations of exaggeration by Samwu could have been founded. But the footage seen by many clearly depicted a non-peaceful strike. However, IOL Daily news reported that a small group of protestors demonstrated peacefully outside the Hibiscus Coast Municipal Offices. This is the first account of a peaceful protest (as far as I have read).

We are in an embryonic stage of our democracy and it seems that class issues and the demons of apartheid are still seeping through the cracks of our society. But can we always blame class and apartheid for problems faced today? Yes there are visible gaps between the rich and the poor but is turning our streets where innocent bystanders are being injured the answers to the problems faced by the poor, the unappreciated and others.

I sympathize with the municipal workers who feel unappreciated and looked down upon, but I vehemently believe there is no justification for the violent behaviour depicted on the streets of Cape Town and Durban.

The media act as the watchdog for society. They are responsible for keeping the nation abreast with news surrounding us. So, as an institution they cannot be accused of distorting and exaggerating the behaviour of striking Municipal workers (not in this case anyway).

It will be immensely interesting to see the reports surrounding the huge march planned for 19 August 2011 in Johannesburg as well as the behaviour of the municipal workers. Will the abovementioned strike follow the footsteps of the Cape Town and Durban strikes?  Let us wait and see…

Nonviolence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used. – Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)


Pictures courtesy of:,r:9,s:0&tx=135&ty=59&biw=1366&bih=667,r:8,s:30&biw=1366&bih=667,r:8,s:0&biw=1366&bih=667





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