The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) is in the process of challenging amendments to the Municipal Systems Act on the grounds of constitutionality.
In 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the amendments were unconstitutional.
Samwu secretariat Dumisani Magagula said to Polity that several municipalities had written to workers asking them to resign as Political Office Bearers or as municipal workers.
This ultimatum comes after the signing into law of amendments to the Municipal Systems Act by President Cyril Ramaphosa late last year, which prohibits all municipal workers from holding political office, barring them from simultaneously being a political office bearer and a municipal worker.
“We have as Samwu contended that the amendments to the Systems Act infringe on the rights of municipal workers, in particular Chapter 2, Clause 18 and 19 of the Bill of Rights, the cornerstone of the country’s democracy. We are aware of the fact that Section 36 of the Constitution provides for the limitation of rights conferred upon citizens, this however can only be done under strict conditions, as per the dictates of the Constitution. We are of the view that the criteria for limitation of rights have not been met and as such, these amendments should be declared unconstitutional, invalid and set aside,” Magagula said.
As per the directives issued by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs late last year, workers will have up until November 2023 to resign from political office if they wish to continue being in the employ of any municipality.
Samwu views any attempt by municipalities to harshly get workers to resign from political office as an attempt to speedily strip them of their constitutional rights.
The union’s challenge was strengthened by a resolution of the recently held Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu’s) National Congress, which saw the amendments as an attempt by government to strip municipal workers of their Constitutional rights while also weakening the working-class movement.
Magagula said that the current discussions in relation to the depoliticisation of the local government sector finds resonance with the Union.
“We are of the view that many of the challenges faced by the country’s municipalities are political in nature, but placing the blame on municipal workers and seeking to use them as scapegoats for the collapse of the country’s municipalities is a misdiagnosis of the root cause of municipal collapse. It is for this reason that Samwu calls upon all its members to ignore the ultimatum that has been issued to them by municipalities as we, along with Cosatu, are in the process of challenging the amendments,” he said.