'We will bring Uitenhage to a halt'

Mkhululi Ndamase

A TENSE standoff between Uitenhage's western areas protesters and municipal officials over land ended with the residents threatening to bring the town to a standstill today if their demands were not met.

Taxi commuters said late yesterday they had been warned by taxi drivers there could be riots today.

The residents from Rosedale, KwaLanga, Polla Park and Moeggesukkel want the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to prioritise providing them with land for shacks while they wait for houses.

They also want their names added to the municipality's database for housing beneficiaries. At a meeting in KwaLanga with municipal officials yesterday, the angry residents said they would march to the Town Hall today to hand over a petition containing their demands.

Community leaders urged residents to keep their children out of school so they could join the march.

"People should be put on the housing list when we hand over the petition. I will be the first one to throw a stone because we want houses," community leader Lunga Nombexeza said.

The meeting was held after human settlements portfolio committee boss Buyisile Mkavu's home was pelted with stones on Friday and again on Monday.

Mkavu, human settlements official Thembakazi Hlela, and Ward 50 councillor Zolani Ncwadi told the group of about 200 residents that the municipality had identified 26 erven that could possibly be used.

But the situation heated up when they revealed that they were waiting for other government departments to determine if the land was suitable for houses and the installation of services, such as water and electricity. The residents also appealed to Mkavu to withdraw a court order barring them from illegally occupying the land.

"We are also appealing to you to have the cases against the 32 residents who were arrested [during the previous violent protests] scrapped. We are requesting a temporary arrangement until we are relocated to appropriate land," Nombexeza said. Mkavu said that was not going to happen.

After the meeting, Nombexeza urged residents to come out in force to join the march. But he appealed to them to hand over any weapons like pangas before the march.

"The police are like vultures and we are their prey, so if you bring any weapons like pangas, give it to us and we will put it in a bakkie," Nombexeza said.

"If we stick together during the march, they [the police] will not shoot at us, but if we start running in separate directions they will shoot and arrest us.

"They won't shoot at us in town because they know the boers don't want that in their area – and they know the law. They won't just shoot at us in town like they do here in the township," he said.

Nombexeza said parents should not send their children to school today "because children will want to join the march".

Last year, the residents went on the warpath, assaulting councillors, torching community halls and councillors' offices, pelting cars with stones and looting foreign nationals' shops. Although Mkavu was one of the councillors assaulted last year, and despite the latest attacks, he said he would not be driven out of his home by thugs.

Mkavu said yesterday his family had also been threatened.

"I was born and bred here. I can't leave because the criminals feel like I'm interfering with whatever they're doing.

"If the thugs insist on threatening my family and I, even to kill me, so be it. I'm going to stay here and serve the whole metro, because I don't serve only Uitenhage. I'm going to stay here until my creator decides otherwise," he said.

Gamble resident Chantelle Ball said commuters had been warned by taxi drivers that there would be riots again today.

"I'm so scared to take public transport ...  our lives are at risk because they [protesters] have threatened to burn the taxis if they take people to work," Ball said.

Another resident, who did not want to be named, said he had heard that no vehicles or pedestrians would be allowed to leave or enter the western areas.

"All the workers at Shoprite, Pick n Pay and Spar were talking about the fact that they won't be able even to walk to work or back home, especially if they are in their uniforms," the resident said.

Police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Gerda Swart said criminal behaviour would not be tolerated during the march.

Mkavu said he was not prepared to promise people what he could not deliver.

"There's no way that everybody is going to get houses at the same time.

"There is no way," he repeated.

The councillor said another meeting would be scheduled for tomorrow at the Uitenhage Town Hall.

Present would be the residents and Human Settlements MEC Helen SaulsAugust. – Additional reporting by Rochelle de Kock