Mkhululi Ndamase and Rochelle de Kock
THE Eastern Cape’s two metros have been rocked by protests, arson and the destruction of property this week, with all leaders – including the province’s top brass – turning to the police to resolve the stalemate.
Human Settlements, Safety and Liaison MEC Helen Sauls-August has called on the police to step up their game in dealing with the violence, which saw two Nelson Mandela Bay councillors’ houses torched, the vehicles of Uitenhage residents pelted with stones and East London’s City Hall and municipal offices set alight this week.
Uitenhage residents went on a rampage this week, demanding land to build their shacks. They have refused to accept explanations that the Bay municipality was still trying to identify suitable land.
In East London, striking SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) members set fire to the Buffalo City Hall and destroyed municipal properties on Wednesday, demanding a 14th cheque. In Mthatha, also on Wednesday, a grievance between workers and their employers quickly turned violent when the shops – owned by Pakistani, Bangladesh and Chinese nationals – were vandalised and looted.
The situation in the province’s three biggest cities was a lot calmer yesterday. Although Sauls-August had no definite plan to deal with the violent outbreaks, she said she was working with municipalities to “address the issues as they are coming up”.
She said her department had bought various pockets of land in the Bay for housing development. “I cannot keep quiet and not condemn the criminal activity that is taking place. [The Uitenhage protest] is not a service delivery protest, it is just criminal activity taking place.
“When people are being addressed by councillors and they are singing ‘we are going to kill you no matter what information you are bringing’, that is criminal activity. And if the SAPS are not going to deal with those issues, we are going to see more and more of these violent protests being taken over by the criminal element,” Sauls-August said.
She said the information and answers that the community required was available, but they simply refused to accept the truth or respect government processes. “People don’t want to understand and accept the truth of what can be done and when it can be done, and then it is up to themselves.
“In that case, they must continue to be led by the criminal element and continue in this very barbaric way of burning down halls and libraries as they have done to the rest of the country. Those assets won’t easily come back to the communities and I hope they can also understand that,” she said.
Sauls-August raised concerns that the Kamesh community police forum (CPF) members were nowhere to be found when the riots first flared up last year.
CPF provincial chairman Ray Makhutyana said they too were affected by the same challenges that the residents faced. “Those demands that are put forward to the municipalities also affect us because we’re members of the community. If it says we need clean water, better roads, we are also affected by it.
“Which is why it is difficult for us to be there, to be fire extinguishers … because we’re not armed. The police are armed.”
When The Herald tried to secure an interview with Eastern Cape premier Noxolo Kiviet to ascertain her plans to deal with the anarchy in the province, her spokesman Mxolisi Spondo said: “With all the various complaints and protests, there are different issues at hand and the premier wants to give the municipalities space to deal with them.
“There are many structures that are trying to resolve these challenges; the ANC is also involved. With all the chaos that’s going on, the police must protect the citizens and if people are found to be breaking laws, they must be arrested.”
“There’s no way the premier can get involved if people create anarchy … It would set a bad precedent if, to get her to listen to them, they burn houses.”