Bullets fly as township erupts

Thu, 10 Feb, 2011

 

By midday yesterday, in Phaphamani Township near Vergenoeg, about 100 protesters were still locked in a tense standoff with police who, after a formidable show of force, seized three leading community activists and locked them up.

The protests started on Wednesday, when around 200 residents of some of Grahamstown's poorest townships toyi-toyied outside the magistrate's court in High Street, protesting against poor service-delivery.

Members of the Unemployed People's Movement, the Women's Social Forum and the Rural People's Movement, they had come from townships including Joza, Xolani, Phumlani and Hlalani, where, they said, they had been passed over by the municipality.

"We want to see the mayor in person," said Xoliswa Mbunge, a Phaphamani resident, when the group had marched down High Street and settled outside the City Hall.

"He promised to build houses for us. He said that by December last year we would have proper toilets and electricity. But we've seen nothing since then," she said.

Undeterred by Grahamstown SAPS Lieutenant Colonel Monray Nel's pronouncement that what they were doing was illegal, the crowd sang struggle songs and toyi-toyied, as they embarked on a sit-in on the first floor of the City Hall, waiting for Mayor Vumile Lwana.

Addressing about 200 residents who had occupied the passageway, Ayanda Kota, the chairman of the Unemployed People's Movement, said, "To get a job here you have to... be a member of the ANC."

He then drew correlations between crime and what he described as the deplorable state of services in most black townships.

Later that afternoon, the protesters were forced to take their protest outside where, to jeers, Municipal Manager Ntombi Baart accepted a memorandum from the crowd.

Despite a large police presence, violence threatened to break out later as the protesters brought traffic to a standstill in High Street, outside the City Hall. The crowd then took its protest to the townships, where they burnt tyres and dug shallow trenches on tar roads in Joza and Phaphamani townships, before they dispersed around 9pm.

But from 7am yesterday, about 100 residents - led by the Unemployed People's Movement and Women's Social Forum - continued where they had left off on Wednesday, blockading roads in Phaphamani with rocks, wire and burning tyres.

When police arrived shortly after, the protesters threw rocks at them.

It was then that the 25 officers from Grahamstown SAPS used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse them.

Undeterred the residents, in a cat-and-mouse game, gathered in clusters around the township and, at the time of going to press yesterday, residents and police were still locked in a tense standoff as three activists - Ayanda Kota and Xola Mali, of the Unemployed People's Movement, and Nombulelo Yami, of the Women's Social Forum, were arrested.

Police are investigating a case of public violence and damage to municipal property. Kota, Mali and Yami are likely to appear in the Magistrate's Court today.

 

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