Memorandum handed over amidst more violence

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Standerton - Calm has been restored in Standerton after the Mpumalanga government was given 24 hours to respond to the service delivery protests in the area.

The situation was turbulent on Tuesday morning when the community of Sakhile township marched to the offices of Lekwa local municipality, burning a community hall, before submitting a memorandum of their grievances to the acting municipal manager Jabu Sindane.

"Amongst our demands, we want all the councillors in that municipality to be fired. We also demand the resignation of all managers, and most of all we want Premier David Mabuza to come and address us in the local stadium.

"All our demands should be met within the next 24 hours or else government will face the unknown," said Bashin Mafikeng, a member of the Sakhile Community Forum.

He said residents also demand the withdrawal of criminal charges against all those who were arrested since the protests started on 25 September.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at marchers who set fire to a community hall on Tuesday.

"Tyres were burning and rubbish littered most of the streets in Standerton and Sakhile. Shops in the area were closed and people were not able to go to work.

"We also fired shots after some of the protesters tried to overturn a car suspected to belong to the municipality," said Captain Leonard Hlathi, spokesperson for acting Mpumalanga police commissioner Rex Machabi.

Hlathi said some of the protestors were chanting that only President Jacob Zuma can stop them now. When accepting the memorandum, Sindane thanked the protesters for raising their concerns, but he also told them that it was not right to destroy property that was built for their benefit.

"Thank you for submitting the memorandum, but we all have to know that my hands are tied and only the office of the MEC and provincial government can respond to you demands, so I will forward this memo to the MEC immediately," he added.

A police helicopter flew over the area to monitor the situation as marchers dispersed.

The protests in Standerton started on 25 September after the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs released a report implicating Lekwa municipal officials in fraud, maladministration and corruption.

Several properties, including a councillor's house, municipal administration block, a community hall and a library were set alight.

Residents demanded that all councillors resign. Since the protests started, about 160 people had been arrested for public violence in the area, including the 99 suspects who were arrested on 26 September and were out on R200 bail each.

They will return to the Standerton magistrate's court on 22 October. Another 24 were arrested on 6 October and granted bail of R300 bail until their next appearance on 29 November.

Fifteen more people were arrested on 8 October, and released on R200 bail until their next appearance on 29 November. An additional 22 were arrested on Sunday evening where a civilian and a police officer where shot and injured with rubber bullets.

The 22 were arrested after residents of Sakhile township blockaded the R32 between Standerton and Johannesburg with rocks and burning tyres.

According to Captain Hlathi, the protests spilled over to the small towns of Machadodorp and Belfast where the residents were complaining about incomplete houses, shortage of water and electricity.

On Monday and Tuesday the residents of Machadodorp blockaded the N4 road between
Machadodorp and Nelspruit.

The police have since asked people driving on that road to use the Schoemanskloof road if traveling to Nelspruit.

There have been at least a dozen incidents of violent service delivery protests in Mpumalanga this year, resulting in the death of five people and the arrest of over 500 people for offences ranging from public violence to arson.