Billions needed to fix protest-hit townships

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Copy of Copy of Copy of PN Zithobeni8327 [1] INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Zithobeni residents take to the streets during a service delivery protest near Bronkhorstspruit. File photo: Phill Magakoe

Pretoria -

It will require at least R5.8 billion and about 25 years to develop the protest-torn townships in the former Metsweding, Nokeng and Kungwini municipalities to the same level as the rest of the Tshwane metro.

However, breaking his silence over the ongoing protests, Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said on Thursday that the city had already developed infrastructure and improved service delivery since the municipalities had been incorporated into the metro in May 2011.

The mayor told a media briefing in Bronkhorstspruit the old municipalities would have had to work many years to reach the service delivery and development targets that had been achieved in the three years since the merger.

“None of the areas has a problem with roads and other infrastructure, as we speak.

“It is important to note that we have inherited a culture of non-payment for services that we have had to deal with. It is impossible to meet service delivery targets without revenue,” he said.

Copy of Copy of PN Zithobeni8413 A policeman faces Zithobeni protesters, who demanded to meet mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa. Picture: Phill Magakoe PRETORIA NEWS

“Granted, most of the residents are very poor, but the city has a plan to assist them if they come forward, declare their financial status and register. Where we are wrong we will admit. For instance, people who have gone to regional offices have not always received help with their accounts.”

Ramokgopa said the additional costs the city incurred during the merger exceeded estimations.

“The city, as successor in law, was obligated to settle outstanding liabilities on their behalf.

“We settled R124.2 million of unpaid creditors. The total shortfall of cost incurred by the city, including operations costs and capital expenditure, was more than R1.4bn,” he explained.

Paying the creditors had a significant negative impact on the city’s cash flow, he said.

The financial impact of the merger had since been referred to the Fiscal and Financial Commission for further investigation on the possibility of compensating the city. The provincial government had contributed R20m for the additional expenditure incurred.

The townships of Zithobeni, Rethabiseng and Ekangala have been war zones since the beginning of the week, with residents demanding better service delivery.

They also blasted the City of Tshwane for being too far away to look after their needs. Businesses in the Bronkhorstspruit CBD had closed their doors since Wednesday.

Protesters burnt down two clinics, a mobile police station, libraries, a community hall and other municipal and private properties.

A large crowd gathered in Zithobeni on Thursday and had a stand-off with the police for hours.

The protesters hurled stones at the police, who did not retaliate, but doused burning tyres with water from their tanker.

Residents spent the week demanding that the mayor address them on service delivery needs.

Ramokgopa said he believed the protests were triggered by his failure to meet the representatives of the residents on January 31, as he was attending a monthly council meeting.

However, community leaders emphasised that they would only hand in their memorandum of demands and discuss the way forward once their 34 comrades – arrested for public violence earlier in the week – had been freed. They appeared in court on Wednesday and the matter was postponed to February 11.

The leaders prevented Ramokgopa from addressing the residents while the arrested protesters were still in custody. Whether or not residents will continue to protest until this demand has been met is yet to be seen.

“Unfortunately I cannot free the detainees,” said the mayor. “The organs of state do not interfere in the functioning of the other. We have asked our legal experts to intervene. The talks have stalled as a result, and we do not have the set of demands from the residents.”

Mxolisi Xayiya, Gauteng Economic Development MEC, who was also involved in the consultations, promised to accelerate economic development in the area.

He said: “How do you protest about service delivery and then burn down a facility that will cost R50 million to rebuild? There are other areas served by your municipality that could benefit from a cash injection of that amount.”

The surge in violent protests has spread across the country as elections loom and has claimed nine lives, allegedly at the hands of police, in five weeks.

The death toll equals the total number of people killed during protests throughout last year, according to statistics from the SA Institute of Race Relations.

There are at least five protests a day, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

* The Bronkhorstspruit 10km and 32km race that was due to take place on Saturday has been cancelled.

The Bronkhorstspruit Athletics Club said it had decided to cancel the event in the light of the ongoing protests in the area.

“This would have been the 24th time we held the race. People come from as far as KZN, everyone knows the Bronkhorstspruit race is held on the second Saturday in February,” said Danie Kruger.

When the club heard on Thursday that schools had been closed because of the protests it decided to cancel the whole event, he said.

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