BRONWYNNE JOOSTE and ESTHER LEWIS
THE ARMY has been called in and is now on standby to quell protests which erupted on the streets of Samora Machel just days before Wednesday’s local government elections.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says the area has been identified as an “election hot spot” and the army was dispatched yesterday after talks between the commission, police and military.
Residents started protesting on Wednesday after a child was injured in a car crash near Samora Machel Primary School.
They are demanding that the city build speed bumps to slow down vehicles.
The residents dug trenches in Oliver Tambo Drive and Weltevreden Road near the busy R300 and also pelted passing cars with rocks and burned tyres.
Yesterday, soldiers patrolled both roads, which were closed to traffic during the day.
Some soldiers were on foot, and others monitored the area from their armoured vehicles.
This morning, charred rubble and stones of various sizes were still scattered across the roads.
Although the streets were quiet at first, by 9am a small group of protesters had returned to the area, digging up sections of the road and setting fire to the rubble.
There were no police officers or soldiers on the scene and the protesters threw a stone at a car that drove over the rubble.
The city’s traffic officials were unable to say how many cars had been damaged in the protests.
Yesterday, a pall of smoke hung over Samora Machel throughout the day.
The presence of the army did not deter residents and, as night fell, fires were relit and smoke from burning tyres spiralled into the air.
Residents waved election posters and toyi-toyied alongside heaps of rubble.
Although the protests were not directly linked to the elections, the IEC’s Courtney Sampson said it was to be expected that the country’s poorer areas would become hot spots for violence or protest action during the election period.
“These communities are under constant distress. There is never any focus on them – only when something bad happens,” Sampson said this morning.
“During election time, the focus shifts on to them and this becomes the ideal tme to raise their discontent,” he said.
Yesterday, councillor Monwabisi Mbaliswana, into whose ward 33 the area falls, told the Cape Argus that the residents would not stop until speed bumps were built.
He said this would help to minimise the risk of children being knocked over by speeding motorists.
Mbaliswana said that after another child had been killed near the school in January, he had immediately applied to the city to have speed bumps in the road.
He said he had obtained letters of support from the local community police forum, Samora Machel community leaders and other local organisations. These had been submitted with the application.
He added that an official from the “top echelons” of the city’s transport department had later told residents that he had no knowledge of the application.
The city had neither confirmed nor denied this at the time of going to press today.
Samora Machel’s police spokes-man, Captain Ntomboxolo Sitshitshi, said last night that no arrests had been made in the area in connection with the protests on Wednesday and yesterday.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer November Filander said today that seven army vehicles had been dispatched to Samora Machel yesterday afternoon.
The team had been sent in after the area had been identified by the IEC, police and the army as one of several election hot spots in the Western Cape.
Sampson, who is the IEC’s provincial head, said the organisation met every week with state security bodies in the run-up to elections to “assess circumstances in communities”.
Filander said hot spots were identified based on service delivery protests and the army was placed on standby to assist the police if protests turned especially violent.
Earlier this week, national police management identified the Western Cape as being one of the country's hotspot provinces ahead of the elections, with KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and North West.
Officials said a total of 50 000 police officers would be dispatched to 21 868 polling stations.
Another 25 000 officers would be used to do general policing and would work alongside thousands of reservists.
“We will not allow anyone to disrupt these elections,” said national police commissioner General Bheki Cele. Police would be “everywhere” on Wednesday.
“Anyone who thinks they can disrupt the elections has another thought coming,” said Cele.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said police would come down hard on anyone who tried to disrupt the elections. “While people have a right to protest, it is to be done within the law.”