Johannesburg - Bessie Tyantini was tired. She had joined other residents of Boiketlong informal settlement to block the roads of Sebokeng in a service delivery protest around 2am yesterday.
More than 12 hours later, she was still awake and with management at Sebokeng Hospital, south of Joburg, trying to find out what had happened to two protesters injured in a shootout.
It wasn’t good news.
One of the men was shot in the arm, but alive.
The other was already dead when ER24 brought him in.
The hospital’s management pleaded with Mam’Bessie: “We know there’s poverty, we agree – but we are pleading that you leave passage to the hospital.”
A series of blockades of rock, glass and burning tyres had stopped doctors and nurses from getting to work.
“Please, a hospital must be treated like a graveyard… it’s a sacred place.”
Added Mam’Bessie: “We’ll talk to them (the protesters). I agree with you, but look at where people are staying – no taps, no sanitation, no electricity…”
It was in 2009, in the midst of a divorce, that she had left her home in Zone 12 in Sebokeng for a shack in Boiketlong, a single-room Zozo.
She’s a pensioner and fetches her water from one of the handful of taps across the large settlement.
The residents installed them after getting tired of waiting for the municipality to deliver. The settlement has no sewerage system. There are no waste removal services.
“We had a meeting with the government last year about expanding the sewerage system and they said they would get back to us in six weeks,” Mam’Bessie said.
That was in June. They’re still waiting for a response.
“I think that’s what we hate most, that they never came back to us,” she added.
And it’s what the protesters wanted: for somebody from the province to explain what the plans were – if any – to bring services to Boiketlong.
They were angry, and they showed it, trashing a set of robots at one intersection and stoning police Nyalas.
Just what happened when the shooting broke out, nobody was sure, but the rumours ran thick and fast.
One guy was shot. No, it was three. But they were from Sebokeng, not Boiketlong. No, no – they were Boiketlong boys.
What everyone agreed on was that the protesters were attacked by a group of men – ranging between 30 and 100 – allegedly wearing ANC T-shirts.
After the protesters beat them back with a volley of rocks, the men returned with guns. And now somebody was dead.
On Wednesday night, Sapa reported that Emfuleni mayor Greta Hlongwane addressed the protesters after a meeting between protest leaders and Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko.
“The mayor went there to try to calm them down. Unfortunately, the way they are so angry, they insist that they want the premier (Nomvula Mokonyane),” said Hlongwane’s spokesman, Klaas Mofomme.
Five people were arrested for public violence.
Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said the protesters had split into two groups. One group wanted to remove barricades on the road and the other group would not allow it. Several shots were fired between the groups.
Hlongwane said in a statement that protests in Sebokeng were not about service delivery.
“The protest has nothing to do with the provision of basic services.”
She said the unrest was related to a housing development in the area, which was the responsibility of the Gauteng Department of Housing.