Sterkspruit, Molteno residents ask for increased security

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sterkspruit – The majority of residents in Sterkspruit and Molteno in the Eastern Cape have vowed to practice their democratic right to vote in next week's election, however, they have requested increased security measures.

The residents believe that voting will help to change their lives for the better.

“Some of us are tired of these protests in the area. If we can negotiate, then maybe our lives can improve. But we would need protection from the police during and after the elections,” Nonwabisi Ngewu of Sterkspruit told SAnews during a ministerial visit to the two rural towns, which are situated about 60km north-west of Queenstown.

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele on Tuesday led a delegation of ministers in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster on a visit to the towns to encourage a peaceful climate ahead of the May 7 elections.

The minister held community and stakeholder engagements in both small towns, which have been hit by service delivery protests in recent months.

There was a heavy police presence while the delegation -- which included Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane, Cooperative Governance Deputy Minister Andries Nel and the provincial MEC for Local Government Mlibo Qhoboshiyane -- interacted with the communities.

In recent months, members of the Sterkspruit Civic Association have been taking to the streets demanding that the town becomes a stand-alone municipality from Senqu Municipality, which incorporates Lady Grey and Barkly East.

Other complaints relate to lack of service delivery in Sterkspruit and allegations of corruption and nepotism in Senqu.

The violent protests saw protesters blockading roads with rocks and burning tyres and demanding a “toll fee” from motorists. During the voter registration period, IEC officials were reportedly denied access to schools that were to be used as voter registration venues.

The association has also in the past threatened that residents will not partake in the upcoming elections.

Addressing residents, Minister Pandor reminded the community that the precious right to vote was gained through relentless struggles and sacrifices.

The minister reiterated that intimidation of those who want to vote will not be tolerated and that the police will act swiftly to arrest criminals.

"You cannot interfere with a person’s right to vote - it is a criminal act because voting is their constitutional right. These kinds of criminal acts cannot be tolerated in a democracy. The SA Police Service will act swiftly and decisively against the criminals, who involved themselves in these crimes,” Minister Pandor said.

Minister Cwele told the residents that they will increase the number of police in the area, especially during elections.

He said everyone has a right to protest, but that it should be done peacefully.

"As a government that upholds freedom of expression, we recognise the right to express grievances through public protests, but these protests must be peaceful, orderly and non-violent," Minister Cwele said.

He added that the Constitution permits unarmed and peaceful protests, but the abuse of this right becomes a serious matter when participants take up arms and use unnecessary violence, which requires urgent attention and action from SAPS.

The minister said government's mandate was to ensure that elections are non-violent, intimidation free and fair.

"It is our collective responsibility - as government, political parties and the community - to ensure peaceful elections in the area," he said.

Minister Ndebele further urged community members to report intimidators to police. "People have a freedom of association,” he said.

Visit to Molteno

The ministers then proceeded to Molteno, where residents had embarked on violent protests, which brought the town and government services to a standstill. Residents barricaded roads and removed rail tracks, preventing trains from travelling past the area.

On Tuesday, residents wanted a progress update on a petition they had submitted to the local government.

Topping their list of grievances in the area is a lack of services, allegations of nepotism and fraud at the Inkwanca Municipality, as well as visible policing to help address intimidation.

MEC Qoboshiyane said he instituted an investigation after allegations in the municipality revealed maladministration in the management of funds.

He said the municipality will get a financial management capacity plan from the provincial government, which will ensure that services are delivered in the area. He vowed to work with the community until their grievances are resolved.       

The ministers had the same message for the residents of Molteno.

“Each one of us has a right to vote. It is the greatest equaliser. Anyone who stops another from voting is behaving like the apartheid regime. We fought for the right to vote. It is in the Constitution,” said Minister Pandor.

The minister promised that government will come back to listen to the community.

Residents said some of their grievances, such as non-functional streetlights and the collection of refuse, can be addressed speedily by the local government.

"We acknowledge the fact that there are valid challenges in the municipality. But our appeal is that while government is attending to them, there should be discipline," said Minister Cwele, who warned that law enforcement agencies will act swiftly to deal with lawlessness.

The Eastern Cape visit was the third in a series of visits the ministers are conducting in different provinces. Previous visits were conducted in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape. -  SAnews.gov.za

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