Protesters torch Uitenhage councillors' homes

Mkhululi Ndamase and Hendrick Mphande

TWO councillors' homes were set alight yesterday by rampaging Uitenhage residents protesting over land for houses.

The protesters stoned cars, burnt tyres, broke windows, jumped into people's gardens and looted a Coca-Cola truck.

They had warned on Tuesday night that they would bring the town to a standstill if their housing demands were not met.

The day started quietly with a march to the Uitenhage Town Hall to hand over a petition demanding land on which to build shacks while waiting for RDP houses to be built. The situation unravelled from there.

Yesterday's protest was just one of several to rock Nelson Mandela Bay as disgruntled residents vent their anger at the lack of housing delivery by the municipality.

Residents from Port Elizabeth's Booysen Park and Joe Slovo also marched to the City Hall yesterday, upset because RDP housing beneficiaries had still not received the title deed for their homes.

Last night, tempers flared in Mandela Village, KwaLanga, when hundreds of people – mainly youths – blocked the roads leading into the Uitenhage township. Black smoke filled the sky. Police and municipal safety and security officers kept watch from a distance.

Human settlements portfolio committee chairman Buyisile Mkavu's home was torched by the protesters just before 5pm.

Just minutes later, councillor Siena Baartman's house was also set alight by the angry mob in Tambo Village. Neither councillor was at home at the time. They were also both on the receiving end of the residents' wrath last year, with Mkavu physically assaulted and Baartman's car set alight.

Baartman's neighbour, Davian Appels, said a mob invaded the yard and set fire to the house.

"I was scared because the property is adjacent to my house. We used buckets [of water] to extinguish the blaze," he said.

Earlier, protesters smashed a car's back window, pelted passing cars with stones and tried to loot a Somali-owned shop in 20th Avenue. Police stopped the protesters, who had splintered into smaller groups, from causing further damage in Uitenhage's central business district.

One elderly Shoprite customer had his groceries snatched by protesters, who also burnt tyres in Kamesh Road as they made their way back to KwaLanga.

A vehicle from The Herald was also stoned in the township just after 2.30pm, shortly before the group started burning anything they could find in Maduna Road.

Several businesses closed their doors when the march started, fearing that their shops would be looted by the singing, stick-waving mob of about 700.

While waiting for a municipal official to receive the petition, community leader Lunga Nombexeza told the marchers the municipality had 48 hours to respond.

"We have been coming here and handing over petitions, but nothing ever gets done. This is the last attempt, comrades," he said.

"We are washing our hands of the municipality now. We are giving the municipality 48 hours to respond and if they don't – like they always do – then I don't know what will happen."

One KwaLanga resident, who did not want to be named, said the protesters had not planned on violent behaviour.

"Criminals have joined in and are the ones causing all of this.

"We all agreed to air our grievances in a peaceful manner, but these criminals who don't have jobs or children are taking advantage of the situation.

"In Shoprite, an old white man's shopping bag was snatched from him. For what? How will that help us? We are not part of this," the furious woman said.

A shop owner, who only identified himself as Mr Chan, said he had decided to close his shop because he feared it might be looted.

"Every time they start with this, we business people and ratepayers always end up being the victims. I decided not to take any chances."

The violence in the area started last year when the residents torched community halls and councillors' offices, assaulted councillors, stoned cars and looted shops.

Communist Party Uitenhage convener Gift Manzini said the residents' issues were not being taken seriously. "Instead of feeling the pain we feel at ground level, the metro is making a mockery of our issues. They are forgetting that they are there because we voted for them," he said.

Zola Makase, the municipal chief political coordinator in ANC chief whip Joy Seale's office, received the petition on behalf of NMBM.

Nombexeza said the protesters wanted President Jacob Zuma to come to Uitenhage to listen to their grievances.

Mkavu told the residents on Tuesday that the municipality had already identified 26 erven but was still waiting for feedback from other departments to determine whether it would be possible to install other services like water and electricity.

However, the residents were not interested. Yesterday, Mkavu said: "The situation is abnormal. They hand over a petition and give us 48 hours to respond, then immediately go and do what they did. Now I have just received a report that my house has been torched.

"I have been saying that this is not about houses, that there is another element at play, and I am saying it again."

ANC regional secretary Zandisile Qupe said they would wait for the municipality to indicate how they would address the issues as they were service delivery related.

DA MP Annette Lovemore called on mayor Ben Fihla to take charge of the situation.

Police condemned the violence.

Warrant Officer Gerda Swart said: "The SAPS strongly condemns the acts of lawlessness around the Kamesh area, following incidents of burning of houses and looting of a foreign-owned shop. "We will maintain a strong police presence in the area and bring the perpetrators to book."

Other recent incidents related to housing delivery include:

ýThis week's eviction of families said to be illegally occupying 160 houses in Chatty;

ýThe city's award-winning Red Location Museum in New Brighton shut down for the past four months because residents are fed up waiting for houses; and

ýPolice firing rubber bullets at Seaview shack-dwellers when a housing protest turned violent.

ýIt was incorrectly reported yesterday that Human Settlements MEC Helen Sauls-August would have a meeting with Uitenhage residents today. It should have said the ANC regional executive committee. The meeting has, however, been postponed.

ýSee Page 4 and Editorial on Page 14