Durban – Traffic came to a grinding halt on one of Durban busiest routes on Tuesday morning when Kenville informal settlement residents blocked off roads in the north of the city and demanded “promised” free houses.
Businesses in the vicinity were also affected with employees arriving late for work. Some businesses had to cancel their operations for the day.
The metro police and SAPS battled to contain the flames of burning tyres, and to remove rocks and debris “strategically” placed in Queen Nandi Drive and North Coast Road.
The pandemonium, said to have started at about 2am, caused morning peak traffic to back up for several hours.
Metro police spokesman Eugene Msomi said it took more than five hours to clear the debris.
The shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, said it was not responsible for the chaos, but the organisation was “encouraged” by the tactic used, saying it grabbed the attention of the authorities.
Msomi said the protest was “unusual” and “well prepared”.
“They wanted to make sure they caused as much havoc as possible with as few people as possible. It wasn’t a huge protest march, but it was very effective. They caught us unawares.”
The N2, Queen Nandi Drive and North Coast Road were the worst affected, he said.
“We had to close off the roads… They managed to disrupt traffic flow and cause really heavy morning traffic,” Msomi said.
Police spokesman Thulani Zwane said the protest spread to Inanda Road near Sea Cow Lake and Newlands.
He said 400 people were protesting and barricading different roads in the area, demanding RDP houses.
There were also reports on social media about smash-and- grab incidents in the gridlock, but Zwane said no cases had been reported to the police.
Frustrated commuters took to social media, voicing their anger and posting videos and pictures of rubble scattered on the roads.
Reports circulating on social media of three motorists robbed at gunpoint on the N2 could not be confirmed by police. It was said that the incidents happened “just before petro port”.
Protesters were labelled “barbarians” and “idiots” by annoyed motorists on various Facebook pages.
Msomi said metro police “eventually” managed to clear the rubble, “even though it took us longer than usual”.
“Other than just removing them (protesters) we also had to clear the debris. That was also time consuming,” he said.
“As they say: Once bitten, twice shy … We are now aware. Our night people have to make sure that they patrol these areas.”
He believed the protesters had deliberately picked high-volume routes.
The police said no arrests were made.
Abahlali president S’bu Zikode said the movement supported the protest, labelling it a “poor people’s struggle”.
He said it was the only way the authorities would respond to the service provision pleas from the poor.
“If you plan an organised march according to the Gatherings Act in this city, they take your memorandum and dump it in the bin. Peaceful and legal marches are disregarded. We support such spontaneous marches because they stop the city’s economy.”
He said the protest was as a result of city’s “mismanagement” and “failure” to provide low-cost houses.
Zikode said “people don’t just jump to the street (to protest) without having warned – without having attempted to engage peacefully”.
He said people protested because earlier attempts had failed.
“We have been discouraged from following the law.”
Mayor James Nxumalo’s spokesman, Sthembiso Mshengu, said citizens had a right to protest, but it “must not infringe on other people’s rights”.
He said the protest had affected commuters severely.
“People could not get to work, could not get to school and other places of importance,” Mshengu said.
He said the city had seen the protesters’ memorandum.
“They are saying it has been over 20 years OF living in shacks and there are about 12 pockets of informal settlements in ward 34 (Effingham and Kenville). They say they should have had houses a long time ago.”
It was difficult to build houses in the areas as the shacks were built on private land which had been invaded by the dwellers, said Mshengu.
“There are developments in Hammonds Farm and in Cornubia. We believe that, in phase two, some of them will be housed.”
He said there were informal settlements and transit camps across the city and “all those people are still waiting”.
“We don’t have sufficient funds and pieces of land where we can build houses that will once and for all eradicate the informal settlements. It will take time,” he said.