In a recent directive issued by the iNkosi Langalibalele Municipality, employees have been instructed to wear black in honour of the late Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the lifelong president of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). However, this instruction has been met with significant opposition from workers’ representatives, who argue that it is problematic and should be optional rather than mandatory.
The directive, issued by municipal manager Sthembiso Mthembu, stated that the municipality would observe Thursday as a day of bereavement and that all employees, both male and female, must wear black clothing.
This instruction has raised concerns among workers, particularly those who work in departments where they are required to wear prescribed clothing for safety reasons, such as personal protective equipment in the electricity, traffic, or technical services departments.
Thobani Mkhize, the regional chairperson of the South African Municipal Workers Union, expressed his concerns about the directive, stating, “For us, it doesn’t make perfect sense for workers to switch from personal protective equipment.
“The instruction tends to take away people’s beliefs, and there are many denominations in the municipality who may not believe in mourning or may not have any connection to the late Mangosuthu Buthelezi.”
He further emphasized that the instruction could potentially alienate employees from different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs.
Moreover, Mkhize highlighted that the municipality does not provide a “black allowance” to enable workers to purchase black clothing. This raises concerns about the potential victimization of employees who do not possess black clothing and the financial burden it may impose on them. Mkhize firmly stated that workers who do not have black clothes should not feel compelled to buy them.
The directive has been criticized as an overreach by the workers’ representatives. They argue that a decision of this nature should involve consultation with employees and their respective unions. Mkhize expressed disappointment with the lack of communication from the municipal manager, stating, “He should’ve given us the courtesy of informing us about his plans.”
Meanwhile, the ANC in the provincial legislature has also become involved in the matter. Staff members have been requested to refrain from posting negative comments about Buthelezi on social media. This request comes as a means to avoid tension between the IFP and the ANC, especially considering the history of the ANC-IFP civil war in the 1990s.