Pretoria News: Flames of fury in Tshwane

Flames of fury in Tshwane
12 March 2010, 07:44

By Mogomotsi Magome, Graeme Hosken and Patrick Hlahla

Tshwane experienced its third service delivery protest of the week; this time in informal settlements outside Atteridgeville.

Police and soldiers patrolled the streets on Thursday as the protest – once again over the lack of housing and services – turned violent.

But speaking in the city, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said the fact that South Africa was a democratic country did not mean disgruntled citizens could do what they want.

She said government was aware of genuine grievances which had to be attended to, but warned protesters against infringing other people’s rights and said destroying communal facilities hurt no one more than the protesters themselves.

“What they destroy belongs to their communities. This kind of behaviour results in government having to spend repeatedly the sparse resources on the same projects or facilities,” she told the National Press Club.

She accused those who organised some of the protests as having ulterior motives, adding it was particularly hurtful for her to see children who should be in school taking part in protests.

On Monday and Tuesday there were similar service delivery protests in Soshanguve and Mamelodi ahead of executive mayor Dr Gwen Ramokgopa’s state of the city address.

On Thursday police evacuated Somali business owners in the informal settlements of Phomolong, Vergenoeg and Brazzaville as criminals taking advantage of the situation looted their spaza shops.

In an unusual move, members of the SA National Defence Force, believed to be paratroopers, patrolled barricaded streets where tyres had been set on fire.

The last time they were deployed in township unrest was during the xenophobic violence of 2008. SANDF spokeswoman Brigadier-General Marthie Visser could not say why soldiers were in the area.

While some have seen the move as a sign of tougher steps being taken to ensure that service delivery protests do not turn violent, others speculated it could be about preparation for the World Cup.

A planned march in the Atteridgeville area was called off at the last minute, but poor communication by community leaders was blamed for the mayhem which followed.

Residents overturned and burnt rubbish bins, made fires in old tyres and threw stones at police. Police retaliated, firing rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and seeking out those taking advantage of the situation to steal from spaza shops.

Police spokeswoman Captain Tessa Jansen said police would remain in Atteridgeville for as long as necessary. She said 11 people had been arrested for looting and for malicious damage to property.

Abdul Hassan, of the Somali Association of South Africa, said they had been advised by police to evacuate the area.

“At first the police were outnumbered, but they managed to bring in reinforcements and the people stopped what they were doing.

“We were mostly concerned about the shop owners deep inside the informal settlements,” said Hassan.

Moriti Phasha, a resident of Mshenguville informal settlement for nearly 10 years, said they were tired of empty promises from politicians.

“I have voted three times since I moved here, but we still do not have any electricity in this place. People are really angry about what is happening around here,” said Phasha.

He denied that the majority of residents had any intention of looting and said those who did were criminals.

“We were involved in the reintegration of the foreigners back into the township after the xenophobic attacks, so we cannot loot their shops and chase them out,” he said.

Gauteng Civic Association (GCA), an Atteridgeville-based community organisation, said it had called off the planned march to the Housing Department after they met housing officials who assured them their grievances would be addressed.

* This article was originally published on page 1 of The Pretoria News on March 12, 2010