Taxi association and civic organisation representatives late this afternoon confirmed that the blockades Makhanda experienced today would continue from 7am Tuesday morning 25 May. Hundreds of taxis from GRATA and Uncedo taxi associations, supported by a large group of residents and Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) members, today saw most businesses closed across the city and minimal attendance at public schools.
Taxis blocked entrances to Joza’s south side, the Joza Post Office intersection, Upper Trollope Street from Hooggenoeg and kwaJackie (Fingo Square) intersection from early Monday 24 May.
Taxi-operator and community protesters from across the city were mobilised around service delivery in Makhanda, including potholed roads, unreliable water supplies, illegal dumping, demands for the electrification of informal settlements and sewage spills.
And at the core of this week’s action is the UPM’s long-running struggle to have last year’s High Court order for the Province to put Makana Municipality under administration enacted. The shutdown comes on the eve of the UPM’s second Section 18 application to have the 14 January 2020 court order realised.
Residents used the visibility the protest gave them as an opportunity to express a range of concerns.
At the barricade above Sun City informal settlement, Christopher Kusnel spoke to GMDirect.
“Dis oor potholes, en dat ons kry nie water nie,” he said, explaining the taxi blockade and burning barricade.
“Maar onse grootste problem is ons jong mense het geen werk nie. As onse net brood op die tafel kon sit sou dit baie help.”
GRATA, which is an affiliate of the Border Alliance Taxi Association (BATA) and Uncedo joined forces to ensure maximum impact today.
“Roads – the potholes – the unreliable water supply, and dumping,” said GRATA representative Sibongile Waka.
Uncedo’s Sandile Metyisi said, “Look, this is not just for us. This is about service delivery for the whole town.”
Luyanda Tshazibana, also from GRATA, said, “Today is just a start. We can carry this on for a week if we need to.
“I have to fix my vehicle every day because of these roads.”
Nomsa Nqweniso, who runs a school transport business called Masta, had a similar complaint. “My vehicle expenses are over the top because of the high maintenance costs,” she said. “And it’s all because of these roads.”
There was low attendance at public schools across town, but particularly township schools.
A teacher at CM Vellem Primary School in Joza said, “About 20 kids came. We will wait here until 12 because of the children’s safety.”
A group of Grade 9s from Nombulelo were walking home around 8.30am.
“It’s a bit sad because we do want to learn,” they said.
Shortly after 10am, a group of around 400 residents marched to the city hall, where they were addressed by taxi association representatives, UPM representatives and the Mayor.
The Mayor stood on the back of an open bakkie in front of the City Hall, along with the shutdown organisers.
A large contingent of Public Order Police from Port Elizabeth stood ready at various positions around the area.
The crowd demanded that he bring Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
Unable to raise Mabuyane by phone and quite literally put on the spot, he suggested that Co-operative Governance MEC Xolile Nqatha instead represent the provincial government.
He was shouted down on that suggestion, and the crowd said he could not leave until Mabuyane agreed to come and address them.
It was at this point that police on foot moved swiftly on to the back of the bakkie, as a Casspir backed up to it, and the Mayor was physically removed from the scene.
Outraged, the crowd shouted for the Mayor to be returned, and attempted to block the Casspir’s path. The police fired two or three stun grenades to disperse the crowd, and the vehicle left with the Mayor inside.
The Mayor later told GMDirect he had himself been surprised.
“I was not worried, but the police assessed that there was a risk and decided to remove me from there.”
UPM leader Ayanda Kota later explained that the insistence on Mabuyane’s presence was in order to get his first-hand explanation why he had not acted on Judge Igna Stretch’s January 2020 order for the Makana Council to be dissolved and the municipality to be put under full administration.
“We don’t want Nqatha to come because the Premier can override him. We want the Premier himself to come and explain why he opposed the dissolution of Makana Municipality.”
A year ago, following a virtual sitting of the High Court, Judge Stretch refused the Province and Makana leave to appeal her ruling. In the same sitting, she also rejected the UPM’s Section 18 application for the order to immediately take effect.
The Province and Makana are soon to appeal the dissolution/ administration ruling in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
And the UPM on Friday lodged court papers for a second Section 18 application that GMDirect understands may be set down for this week.
What happened after the meeting outside the city hall
The taxi operators *and community members proceeded to the Queen Street taxi rank, where they met to plan their course of action, which included a further blockade on the N2 and a continued shutdown.
*Some participants said they also intended to find and remove drug dealers who they said operate in that area. A large contingent of police, bolstered by a private security company, followed a group of around 200 people as they marched through the narrow streets of the area, sometimes singing, sometimes just marching.
The police issued a five-minute disperse warning. But there was little the vehicle-bound police could do as the group made its way through the pedestrian-designed Shoprite complex, and then on to the forecourt of the Caltex garage on the corner of Bathurst and Beaufort streets, before approaching the Pick n Pay mini store and instructing them to close.
However, as soon as they crossed the road and made their way back along the narrow streets around the taxi rank, the police issued another five-minute warning and moved in with stun grenades, rubber bullets and teargas.
The taxi operators and the community members later returned to kwaJackie on the corner of Raglan Road and Albert Street, where they remained until meeting again around 5.30pm.
They resolved to continue the shutdown tomorrow, Tuesday 25 May, from 7am.
“We want to give them time to check when the Premier will be available,” organisers said.
In response to a specific question from GMDirect, the shutdown organisers said essential workers had been allowed to pass through the blockades today (although this was disputed by some essential workers).
“Just like today, we hope that all essential workers who are in uniform – police, traffic, ambulance workers and nurses – will be allowed through.”
Asked whether there were concerns that criminals might take the opportunity to loot immigrant owned shops, as has happened at the tail end of similar protests in the past, Kota said, “We have been very explicit: there must be no looting, no damage to property. This is a peaceful protest.”
Asked when the shutdown would end, organisers said, “When the Premier comes to address us.”
Kota said, “We have no memorandum. We just want him to explain why he decided to oppose the court ruling.”
In a post on their Facebook page, the Makana Residents Association said, “MRA does not support any damage to property or people but we do believe that it is the right of all groups to make their voices heard and protest when necessary. The MEC must take note of [the 2019 petition]signed by 22 000 residents of Makana to which they have never officially responded.
“Officials should respect the effort it takes for people to write petitions and organise peaceful if noisy protests – the same people would all prefer to be doing something else, they want a city that works. Makana needs leaders who work for the people and manage our finite resources for the benefit of all. Management and Councillors, roll your sleeves up and work with the community to rebuild this city.”
What about school?
Shutdown organisers explicitly said they would seek to close schools Tuesday; however, it was not clear whether there was a strategy to enforce this. Some schools have written to parents saying they will be open to provide a safe space for children; however, if they feel their children will be safer at home, they recognise that.
Taxi strikes in other areas
Herald Live reports that the taxi industry in Nelson Mandela Bay has warned of a possible strike Tuesday 25 May.
* Copy altered for clarification.
* MRA comment added later.