Protests rock Makhanda

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Inside the city hall, there is unhappiness over how a proposal to resolve wage discrepancies was handled; outside, the community of Inkanini say they want electricity by Christmas. The municipal leadership has its hands full this week, writes Sue Maclennan

Two meetings with the city’s leadership failed to appease  residents of Inkanini informal settlement this week, as they took to Makhanda’s streets in protest. Makana Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa says there is no plan by the municipality to destroy the shacks that have spread across the veld. Meanwhile a massive march planned by municipal workers for Friday 8 November is likely to put municipal services on hold, as well as affect commuters. The march comes four days after Municipal Manager Moppo Mene handed in his resignation.

In June 2017, thousands of hopeful people queued over several days for plots on the empty land north of Extension 10, Extension 9 and Transit Camp. The allocation of the 18m x 23m plots was done by a self-appointed committee led by Asanda Bobo. The move caught Makana Municipality off-guard. The settlement grew quickly and there are now around 2000 self-built homes spread across the veld.

Wrangling over the land has included an interdict by Makana Brick against the municipality. Industry laws require the factory to operate a certain distance from any residential area. Makana’s failure to prevent houses being erected within that zone was putting the business, one of the city’s largest employers, at risk of being non-compliant with zoning regulations. This was resolved when residents and Makana Brick reached agreement on a 200-metre buffer zone between the dirt road and any housing. Makana Brick has since withdrawn the interdict.

Further complicating matters was that Makana’s legal department, when dealing with the interdict, discovered that the land did not in fact belong to the municipality, but the Department of Human Settlements.

The provincial Department of Human Settlements is currently in the process of transferring ownership of the land to Makana.

On the agenda of the 30 October Council meeting was a report providing feedback on an intervention in Makhanda by the national Department of Human Settlements. The DoH was looking into the details of Township Establishment (i.e. formalising the settlement). According to the report, the municipality’s Spatial Development Framework – a blueprint for planning the layout of residential and business areas – should incorporate both Inkanini and Sun City informal settlement for township development.

“The conceptual plan was drafted [in 2011], but due to financial constraints… the project ceased,” the report notes.

Over several months, a number of meetings have been held between community members and a special task team at the municipality to deal with Inkanini.

A protester’s hands glisten in the rain on Wednesday night. #Inkanini Photo: Sue Maclennan

Rumours

On Wednesday night this week, around 300 protesters marched through mist and drizzle from Inkanini to the busy Makana Way/ R67 intersection in east Makhanda. Residents Grocott’s Mail spoke to there said they’d been promised electricity and wanted answers. They also believed that an agenda item about Inkanini in the last Council meeting showed the area could have been developed for housing much earlier. They also believed there was a plan to demolish their shacks.

Mpahlwa was called out to meet the group in the darkness three hours later, as it approached midnight. Grocott’s Mail had left by that time and asked him the next day what his response was to the residents’ concerns.

“I told them there is no shack that is going to be demolished,” Mpahlwa said. “Those are malicious rumours intended to cause havoc.”

Councillor Ramie Xonxa speaks to #Inkanini residents about the process for formalising a township (residential area with services and infrastructure).

As activists set fire to barricades along the length of the main approach road to Inkanini early on Thursday morning, Mpahlwa, along with councillors Ramie Xonxa and Luyanda Nase, met again with residents – this time in the heart of Inkanini. Xonxa explained the process for the formalisation of a township (i.e. a residential area with infrastructure and services).

Xonxa and Mpahlwa said they had written to Eskom to request the installation of electricity at Inkanini and an agenda item in the special Council meeting scheduled for Friday 8 November was a council resolution that Makana investigate the requirements for installing electricity in the settlement.

Residents said that in a previous meeting with community members, Mpahlwa had promised them electricity by December.

The Mayor later said this was a misinterpretation. “One of the community leaders said, ‘We would love to have electricity by December,’ Mpahlwa explained. “I replied, ‘That would be my wish.’”

However, this week, the Inkanini community demanded not only a commitment, but also a date by which they would receive electricity.

“I told them I have no authority over Eskom and that it would be irresponsible of me to give a deadline for something I have no control over,” Mpahlwa said.

It was at this point that residents said that until they had a firm commitment of electricity before the festive season, they would continue to toyi-toyi.

Police warn protesters to leave the N2.

Protesters placed rocks, fencing wire and other material along the length of the R67 between the Makana Way and on the N2 at the Fort Beaufort road intersection. Vehicles were backed up for kilometres and a large police contingent, including the Public Order Policing Unit from Port Elizabeth, were stationed between the community members and the queues of cars on either side.

“We don’t mind waiting for sewers and proper water,” a protester told Grocott’s Mail. But we must have electricity. The Mayor told us we will have electricity and we want him to tell us when we will get it.”

Protesters negotiate with Public Order Police from Port Elizabeth.

Following two or three rounds of discussions with the police, the protesters resolved to remain in their position. The police then fired rubber bullets and detonated stun grenades and the group fled back to the R67. One of the group’s leaders was arrested as the police pursued stragglers.

Public Order Police from Port Elizabeth prepare to fire rubber bullets and detonate stun grenades.

Grocott’s Mail will continue to report on this.

Meanwhile South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) Shop Steward Wandile Duruwe on Thursday confirmed that not only members of SAMWU and IMATU would march to the city hall on Friday – they would be joined by the taxi industry and a number of NGOs.

The unions are protesting against what they say is political interference in administrative matters, and say it was over such political interference that the Municipal Manager resigned. Mene was central to an agreement with the unions over wage discrepancies in the institution.

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Inkanini residents demand answers on land

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