Siyathemba protesters get bail

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Balfour - Fourteen of the 22 suspects who were arrested on Monday in connection with the protests in Siyathemba outside Balfour, Mpumalanga, were given R500 bail each on Wednesday.

The 22 suspects were arrested for arson, theft and public violence during a protest in which municipal offices belonging to the Dipaliseng Local Municipality and shops belonging to foreign nationals were looted.

The suspects, including four minors, appeared briefly in the Balfour Magistrate's Court on Wednesday. Fourteen were given bail and are set to re-appear on 18 March.

"Charges were dropped against four because of lack of evidence and the remaining four were referred to the Department of Social Services for diversion programmes because they are minors," said Balfour police spokesperson, Sergeant Sam Tshabalala.

A further 10 people were arrested and charged for public violence and arson when protests resumed on Tuesday, leading to a local library being burnt down.

"Nine of the people who were arrested on Tuesday will appear in court on Thursday. One of them was arrested for assaulting a member of the public. He is expected to appear in court on the same day. We are currently determining if he acted in self defence," said Sergeant Tshabalala.

He said the situation remained relatively calm on Wednesday and that police had fanned out across the township and were conducting patrols.

The residents of Siyathemba have called for the mayor to step down saying that he failed to address problems raised during previous service delivery protests in June last year.

"We have only three demands here. One, we want all our local councillors to step down; two, we demand to be immediately re-demarcated back into Gauteng because of better service delivery there and, finally, we want Burnstone Gold Mine to be shut down until they employ more people from the local community," said protester, Herbert Zitha, on Wednesday.

Great Basin Gold has insisted that it has employed locals at their Burnstone Gold Mine in Balfour.

On Tuesday, a delegation of MECs visited the area, including MEC for Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Norman Mokoena, Safety and Security MEC Sibongile Manana and MEC for Economic Development, Environment Affairs and Tourism Jabu Mahlangu.

"The MECs have condemned the unwarranted violence, malicious damage to property and attack on the foreign nationals. They also called on all learners to return to school.

"They also called upon the law enforcement agents to apprehend those criminal elements that seek to bring disorder to the community," said Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs spokesperson, Simphiwe Kunene.

MEC Mokoena said it was unfortunate that the community library was destroyed when the Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation had made R200 000 available to equip it with computers and internet facilities.

"Significant progress has been made in addressing the issues this community raised with government last year. Some elements are shifting goal posts here and it will not be allowed.

"We urge community leaders to exercise restraint and ensure that the situation is normalised and property is protected," said Mokoena.