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NHLANGANO – About five textile firms in Nhlangano had to close early for the day after close to 10 000 workers turned rowdy and took to the streets.

It all began around the lunch hour when workers were gathered outside the gate at Zheng Yong Garments, where they were to get feedback from their union leaders pertaining to ongoing salary raise negotiations with the employer.

The workers had just been told that the negotiations had hit a deadlock and a certificate of unresolved dispute issued by CMAC, when they burst into song while going back to work, according to ATUSWA Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza.

This prompted management to lock the gates, igniting a chain of violent reaction from the agitated workers.
The protest took an ugly turn when the workers started to vandalise property, before the procession spread to three nearby factories where workers were stopped from continuing with their work.

Police were called to the scene and several gunshots were fired in an attempt to disperse the rowdy workers.
Some of the employees said batons were also used by the police to disperse the workers, which resulted in the crowd becoming aggressive.

The workers felt they were being aggressively intimidated by the police and threatened with violence, while their union leaders were locked up in a series of meetings with management.

There was complete pandemonium after the gunshots were fired as a group of workers confronted the police, demanding answers on why some of their colleagues had been beaten up.
The protest soon spilled out to the main road leading to Nhlangano town centre, as the workers headed towards other garment factories located at the town’s industrial site where they further forced another factory to close.

The protest soon escalated from what at first appeared to be a dispute between workers and management of one factory into a full blown ‘shutdown’ of the textile industry in the southern timber growing town.
Authorities sent over 200 officers and warders from the nearby correctional services facility to restore order, but this seemingly fuelled the workers to turn even more rowdy.

Paramilitary police and warders with riot shields, helmets and batons guarded the entrance to one of the major factories, Juries Garments, and tried to drive the rioting workers away.
This was after the factory’s guard house had its windows smashed, while the fence surrounding the firm was pushed down by the protestors, leaving gates lying flat.

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