A GLARING contrast of priorities erupted in Nelson Mandela Bay yesterday as hundreds of angry protesters burnt tyres, blockaded roads and demanded service delivery, while elsewhere singing ANC leaders demonstrated against the controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma.
There were blazing fires and disruption to traffic in three of the city’s main thoroughfares as the throngs of protesters intensified their demands for housing, water and electricity.
Over a thousand residents from Walmer township closed off Heugh and Villiers roads as well as Victoria Road early yesterday, causing rush-hour chaos for hundreds of motorists on the busy roads.
Their protest, the third one this month, took place as ANC leaders in the city held a different protest outside The Herald offices against the controversial painting depicting Zuma with his genitals exposed.
Earlier in the day, human settlements portfolio committee chairman Fikile Desi and his health counterpart Mamisa Chabula Nxiweni attempted to address the Walmer protesters.
But they were booed and told to go and fetch a detailed plan of how the city intended to speedily deliver housing, electricity and proper sanitation to the community.
By midday the group had split, with some following the councillors to the City Hall to demand answers while the rest remained to block off different intersections.
“We are tired of being sent from pillar to post by the municipality regarding matters of service delivery. In all sections it is poor here.
“We are still using the bucket system, and the land which was to be used for building RDP houses is now sold to a private company,” community leader Nombuyiseli Keye said yesterday.
She said they had submitted a petition to the municipality two weeks ago and were promised an answer in seven days.
“They called us to a meeting on Monday, but none of the officials pitched. Today we are demanding an answer in black and white – if not we will cause more chaos. We don’t mind sleeping on these roads until someone from the mayor’s office comes to address us properly.”
The protest also affected some businesses in the area. Walmer Country Club director Gary Packer said they had had to close for the day as staff could not get to work.
“There was chaos in Victoria Road. Tyres and plastic pipes were burnt, and huge rocks and logs thrown in the street. Builders from a complex opposite us said they couldn’t continue with their work.”
At least one car was stoned, allegedly by protesters, but police spokesman Captain Stanley Jarvis said they had monitored the situation. No injuries were reported and no case was opened by last night.
Later in the afternoon, mayor Zanoxolo Wayile came out to address the crowd outside the City Hall. His spokesman Luncedo Njezula said the mayor had developed an action plan to address all service delivery problems in the metro, including those of Walmer township. “Already a committee made up of all the heads from human settlement, public health, infrastructure and other basic service delivery departments has been formed. They are looking at how to move forward and solve problems like those faced by Walmer residents,” he said.
Njezula said the mayor had instructed Desi and Chabula-Nxiweni to go back and address the residents last night.
Meanwhile regional ANC leader Nceba Faku told about 100 party supporters yesterday that while the protest against The Spear was not targeted at The Herald, the paper was the appropriate platform for the party to air its grievances as it was the “only media house that speaks to the people in this region”.
The Herald published a picture of the controversial painting being defaced – effectively rendering it a censored version.
Clad in ANC T-shirts and waving party flags the supporters, flanked by regional executive members, sang and danced, holding placards stating “We support Zuma” and “We want responsible artists”.
They also watched as the protesters from Walmer township passed them on the way to the City Hall.
Faku said their picket was about ANC members “expressing their disgust at what has been happening to the President over the past two weeks”.
“The Herald is convenient in terms of accessibility because it is the most distributed paper in the townships. [We chose The Herald] because of its close proximity to the City Hall. We’ve got nothing against The Herald per se.
“We must be impatient with abuses happening in our societies. Zuma has children, family and relatives who look up to him as an elderly person of the family.
“When they see these pictures, how do they feel?…This is gross abuse of freedom of speech,” Faku said.
Other placards read “A Black man has a right to lead the country, please accept that if you are a democrat!”, “African culture is not inferior and we must protect our Africaness Boycott City Press!”, “Down with the abuse of freedom!” and “No to pornography, No to abuse of freedom of expression!”
Faku said they were happy that City Press had taken the picture off its website.
“But we are saying [publishing the picture] was wrong in the first place. City Press owes the country, the world, the president and the president’s family an unconditional apology. If the apology is not expressed, we will continue [picketing].”
To loud applause Faku chanted “Phantsi nge [down with] City Press phantsi [down]! Phantsi nge Goodman Gallery phantsi! Forward with responsible media, forward!”
“[To] those in the media who abuse our kindness and discipline, watch this space. We are coming to them as well!”