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What began as a peaceful protest on Tuesday turned into a violent battle between police and residents of Bekkersdal, west of Joburg.
Rubber bullets were fired as residents embarked on their third service delivery protest since September.
Roads were barricaded with rocks, blocks of concrete, trees and burning tyres. Police Hippos roamed the streets, and wherever they would find a crowd, regardless of whether residents were armed with rocks or not, fired at them with rubber bullets.
Protesters threw stones at the Bekkersdal police station, damaging three police vehicles and a disaster management vehicle.
A petrol bomb was thrown at the station, said Constable Thembi Masango.
Twenty-seven people were arrested for public violence, police said.
Residents said they were tired of empty promises. There was zero service delivery in the area, they said.
“It will only end when they give us what we want… We are tired of being beggars in our own town,” said Mbulelo Koyana, a member of the Greater Westonaria Concerned Residents Association.
By midday, 20 people had been injured by rubber bullets – four seriously.
Residents had planned to march to the Westonaria municipal offices where they were to deliver a memorandum calling for the municipality to fall under administration with immediate effect, said Wonder Modise, one of the association’s leaders.
Poor service delivery in general, with the sewerage system being a key issue, sparked the protest. Other concerns included projects that were undertaken by the municipality but never completed.
“All councillors must resign with immediate effect regardless of which party they fall under,” said Koyana.
He said they had exhausted all avenues and had not received any answers.
“The local municipality failed to respond, and district told us they had no power to deal with the demands. They are playing delaying tactics,” Koyana said.
Later in the afternoon, residents burnt the local hall and looted shops.
They said theirs had been a peaceful protest until police provoked them by shooting at them with rubber bullets.
The residents’ association had met with residents on Monday to discuss a potential march to the Westonaria municipal office, and the police had also attended.
“Why didn’t they stop us then? They knew it was going to be a peaceful march. All we wanted to do was meet in a public space and get feedback for our demands. Police went out of control. We tried to speak to them but could not reach consensus,” said Modise.
“They went with us to the main street of Kgomoyahlaba and then told us we could not pass… they did not want these issues to be addressed,” he said.
The Westonaria Local Municipality condemned the violent protests, saying “people who destroy public properties are reversing the gains of democracy,” said spokesman Kgabane Madiehe.
He said the municipality was prepared to engage with the residents to resolve the matter. – Additional reporting by Sapa