Riot Police End Workers’ Protest at Durban Stadium

DURBAN, South Africa — A World Cup Sunday that began at the soaring new arch of Durban Stadium ended in smoke and shrieks as police officers fired tear gas and what witnesses said were rubber bullets to break up a large group of protesting security guards.

The altercation started shortly before 1 a.m. Monday, a few hours after the match between Germany and Australia ended. It began in the parking area underneath the stadium, where some administrative offices are located. It soon spilled into the streets outside as several hundred panicked protesters sprinted away as about 40 police officers advanced toward them on foot.

It was the first black mark during this World Cup, which has generated positive energy and reviews since it began on Friday.

Several of the guards said they and their colleagues were upset at being underpaid or, in some cases, not being paid for their work Sunday, the first day of competition in Durban.

“They’re giving us 205 rand; we started at 12 noon and worked until midnight, and they want to give us 205 rand,” said Sikhumbuzo Mnisi, a 44-year-old from Durban.

At current exchange rates, 205 rand is about $27. “Different things have been said to people, but we were promised 1,500 rand per day,” Mnisi said. “We started to protest because we wanted to negotiate.”

Mnisi said the crowd of workers became unruly and started throwing things like plastic bottles.

At least two workers were injured during the altercation with the police; the workers said they had been struck by rubber bullets.

Cynthia Bhengu had blood streaming down her face as she sat roadside waiting for an ambulance at almost 2 a.m.

“The police shot my wife in the face,” said her husband, Falakhe Bhengu, who said that he was a security supervisor.

“It was supposed to be 1,500 rand for supervisors and 1,000 for everybody else, and they gave us 190,” he said of the security company. “If you asked too many questions, they wanted to hit you.”

Nkosingiphine Maphumulo, a 23-year-old, said he had signed a three-month contract but only worked three days so far and had yet to be paid.

“Everyone was excited at first, but I think this World Cup is going too far,” Maphumulo said. “We don’t even have a cent to pay our expenses. We are losing money, because I paid for transport to get here.”

Rich Mkhondo, head of communications for the local World Cup organizing committee, said the protest did not have any impact on security at the match or any spectators.

“Two hours after the end of the first match at the Durban Stadium last night, there was an internal pay dispute between the principal security company employed by the organizing committee and some of the static security stewards employed by the company at the match,” Mkhondo said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. “Police were called on to disperse the protesting stewards.

“This happened, however, long after all spectators had left the stadium after the match, and the incident had no impact whatsoever on the match day security operations.

“The organizing committee will engage with its stadium security provider to avoid a repeat of the situation during the course of the tournament.”

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