Nkosingiphile Zwane, who lives in Duduza township on Gauteng’s East Rand, was allegedly shot by a private security guard with a rubber bullet, which he said caused his eye to “pop out”.
Zwane told New Frame that he lost consciousness after the rubber bullet made contact with the edge of his left eye.
“My world had a spark of gross darkness, I couldn’t see out of my left eye. I decided to insert my index finger in the wound and, surprisingly, my entire finger went inside the hole because the wound was very deep. I removed a piece of plastic from the rubber bullet.”
Zwane, an employee of Luxor Paints in Jet Park, Boksburg, was injured in March this year while participating in a protected strike in which employees demanded benefits such as transport and housing allowances, subsidised medical aid, and job security. Luxor Paints specialises in manufacturing automotive coatings.
Zwane is among 19 workers who were shot at and injured by rubber bullets that were allegedly fired by security guards of the National Strike Intervention Unit (NSIU), a private security company that was outsourced by Luxor Paints to protect its property during the strike.
Bhavna Ramji, a legal representative for the injured workers, said: “On that day [the workers suffered] severe injuries … some of them were bleeding from the rubber bullets. The approach to the strike has been incredibly aggressive and reactionary from the outset. It is not just that they fired the workers; from the very first day of the strike they started undermining the workers that had attempted striking.”
Until his injury, Zwane was the breadwinner of his family, supporting his wife, three-year-old son, and his late brother’s three children who live in Dundonald, Mpumalanga.
He said: “I don’t know what the next step is from now onwards. I am stuck for real. I used to be a part-time local taxi driver so that I could supplement my salary but now I will never drive again. I should be out there hustling for my family, but look I’m just sitting here with my son in this house.”
Now Zwane and his family survive on his son’s social welfare grant alone.
Initially, the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) and Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) sent a letter of demand to Luxor Paints and NSIU, demanding compensation for the 19 injured workers by no later than June 4th.
Among other things, the letter demanded R2.6 million compensation for Zwane.
But Luxor Paints had a very different proposition in mind. According to GIWUSA organiser Andile Nyembezi, the paint manufacturer said that “each and every worker who has been on strike, all of them, will get a settlement value of R10 000, regardless of what happened to each individual”.
“Basically, the company is saying, ‘Take your R10 000, we’re firing you,” said Nyembezi.
The workers, GIWUSA and CWAO have partly rejected Luxor Paint’s offer. Nyembezi said: “It is clear to us they don’t want the employees and that is unfair because there are employees who were not dismissed and there are those who’ve been dismissed so everyone cannot be painted with the same brush.”
One of the dismissed employees, Desmond Mahlaule, who lives in Tembisa, also on the East Rand, claims Luxor Paints dismissed them “just for protesting”.
According to him, the Luxor Paints management “become hard” whenever employees want to address issues of their safety.
Mahlaule added that some of the workers at Luxor Paints have to “fill the paint with their bare hands”, and the company allegedly threatens employees by telling them that they “will call your owners and the labour broker will take you out of the company just like that”.
On June 14th, GIWUSA appeared before arbitration proceedings at the National Bargaining Council for the Chemical Industry regarding the case of Luxor Paints’ intention to dismiss all employees once the settlement value is paid.
“But the employer adopted a hard attitude,” Nyembezi said; adding. “They offered the 111 workers retrenchment packages, which means all the dismissed employees [had to] get a R10 000 across the board and those with more experience will get a top up.”
Nyembezi said GIWUSA took a flexible approach with regards to the initial 111 dismissed workers. Among them, only three workers opted for retrenchment packages and the remaining 108 workers said the case must continue.
“But that was not the company’s interest of wanting to retrench three [employees] or some, it wanted to retrench all of them in order to cut corners with regards to the court proceedings,” Nyembezi said.
“The other workers who were not dismissed at all opted to call off the strike, and on June 20th they were expected to return to work,” Nyembezi said.
However, Luxor Paints dismissed a further “70 employees who were not found guilty in the first hearing which led to the dismissal of the 111 employees. They were charged with the same charges of the first hearing where they were not found guilty.”
Nyembezi said that Luxor Paints dismissed a further 24 employees who were outsourced from a labour broker “without any charge”.
Nyembezi says currently there are over 200 employees which the company laid off, including Zwane.
“On the September 7th, GIWUSA is going to an arbitration at CCMA in Benoni to fight the unfairness of this unlawful retrenchment… It is unfair, but that is what we will be arguing in CCMA,” says Nyembezi.
On the June 4th , Zwane’s lost eye was replaced with a prosthetic eye at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. A criminal case was opened against Luxor Paints and NSIU.
“I am thinking of going to apply for a disability grant at SASSA (South Africa Social Security Agency) because life is extremely tough now,” says Zwane.
Since May 7th, numerous attempts to contact Luxor Paints’ director, Kevin Lurie, have failed. He has also not responded to questions sent to him via email from New Frame.
An official representing NSIU, who refused to be named, said: “There is no comment. We do not speak to the media.” When asked why, he replied: “Because it is my choice and my right; because I can. We do not speak to the media at all because you are going to write whatever that you like.”