Fired-up Motherwell protesters in heated clash over housing Residents form human shield to protect school
DIVIDED Motherwell residents clashed violently over RDP housing yesterday, with one group torching property, while another tried desperately to stop them causing further damage.
Police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse them.
The group on the rampage tried to burn down a community hall on Monday and torched a large retailer’s truck yesterday, before they were prevented from torching a school when residents formed a human shield to keep them off the school premises.
The protest escalated yesterday as the two groups, from NU29 and NU12, hurled stones at each other.
Two people were arrested for public violence and one person was injured when a rubber bullet hit her on the mouth.
The protest had started last week, with residents from NU29 complaining about houses which they claimed were being sold.
They occupied newly built houses in NU29 and fought with beneficiaries who are not from NU29.
On Friday, two municipal bakkies were set on fire and on Monday a community hall was set alight.
Yesterday morning, a group of protesters blocked the R334 route with burning tyres. They also torched a Checkers truck, causing extensive damage to it.
The group threatened to close Imbasa Primary School but parents from NU12, whose children attend Imbasa, lined up in front of the school to prevent it being set alight.
The school’s principal, Mluleki Mayekiso, said the problem started last week when a group of people demanded that he close the school, saying they wanted to bring their housing grievances to the government’s attention.
“Our classes have been disrupted and this has disturbed the school kids,” he said.
“Last week when they came here I told them the school has nothing to do with houses.
“They said it was their way of putting pressure on the government to get attention.
“I called all the relevant stakeholders to make them aware.
“Parents and kids are panicking. There is no normal teaching. The teachers fear for their lives.
“Luckily [yesterday], we had parents standing in front of the school, but no one knows what will happen [today],” Mayekiso said.
School governing body chairman Lumkile Nogoboka said they held a meeting about the disruptions at the school and the residents had decided to come out in force to defend the school.
“We have decided to meet with the group from NU29 to ask them what their problem is as they are disturbing the school kids,” Nogoboka said earlier in the day.
By 2pm, there were two groups of residents having meetings in different locations.
Residents from NU29 were invited to a meeting with the residents from NU12, but never arrived.
Mbulelo Ngobo, of NU12, said they were not fighting and wanted to stop what was happening.
“There are no housing offices in our wards. We don’t understand why they are taking their frustrations out on school kids,” he said.
A group of more than 200 people then decided to go to NU29 and were accompanied by the police.
When they got to the playgrounds in NU29, they started attacking the other group, who tried to escape. As they hurled stones at each other, police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse them.
Speaking for the NU29 residents, Vulikhaya Phasiya described his group as “backyard dwellers” from NU29.
“We are protesting because houses are being sold to people.”
“That is why we have decided to forcibly occupy the vacant houses, because we don’t have R5 000 to pay for them. We have had meetings with the councillor a number of times, but nothing is happening.”
Phasiya denied they were involved in the burning of municipal properties and the Checkers truck. He also denied they had threatened to burn down the school.
Instead, he blamed Ward 54 councillor Aaron Nyikilana for creating divisions.
“We can’t burn the school because our kids are attending the same school,” Phasiya said. “The problem is with Nyikilana, who wants to divide the people.
“We are only fighting corruption and trying to stop houses from being sold.”
Elsa Badenhorst, who was hit on the lips by a rubber bullet, said: “We had a meeting as the community members and were waiting for people from NU12. They came here attacking us,” she said.
“As I was running, one of the cops shot me in my lips even though I pleaded with him not to. I am very hurt by what happened because we were not fighting.”
Nozuko Zondani said she had been a backyard dweller for five years.
“I have seen houses being given to strangers and we are saying enough is enough. We also need houses.” Zondani said. “We want the mayor to come and solve this.”
Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said the damage to municipal property would affect service delivery negatively.
“The municipality is aware of its properties that were burnt,” he said.
“We condemn the act and call upon law enforcement agencies to intervene and bring to book whoever is responsible.
“We are dealing with the housing issue. However, we are not able to provide houses for everyone at the same time.
“We also call upon those who are waiting for houses to engage [with] the municipality, rather than taking the route of destroying property,” Mniki said.
By 4pm, the protesters had gathered at the Motherwell police station, demanding the release of those arrested earlier.
A police spokesman said a case of public violence and arson was being investigated.