Johannesburg - The violent protests in Gauteng can be linked to the upcoming national elections, human settlements MEC Ntombi Mekgwe said on Friday.
“We are concerned that this violence is tantamount to intimidation in the season of elections,” she said.
“We also have no doubt in our minds that this sudden upsurge in violent protests is linked to the upcoming elections.”
She said the burning of buildings such as libraries and clinics was extremely irresponsible.
Mekgwe said the only winners in cases of attacks on councillors and the destruction of property were “criminals, vandals and individuals or organisations” using the acts for political gain.
She was briefing the media in Johannesburg on recent protests in the province.
President Jacob Zuma announced on Friday that the fifth general elections would take place on May 7.
The Gauteng provincial government was concerned about the rise in service delivery protests in the province. It condemned the violence and the destruction of property but recognised people's right to protest.
“Our rapid response team and the department have recorded about 50 service delivery protests in Gauteng since last year,” said Mekgwe.
“In terms of cost for the damage... for the department alone, it's about R55 million.”
She said the figure could be higher for the municipalities where infrastructure was damaged. Mekgwe said the solution to problems residents faced was confronting them and constant engagement.
“There are a number of avenues which are available to members of the community to raise their concerns.”
She urged residents to be responsible and to not stop children from going to school or sick people from gaining access to medicine or hospitals.
In the past week, residents of Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, vowed never to vote for the African National Congress again, saying the ANC-led government had failed them.
Protesters barricaded roads and promised to continue protests until government acceded to their demands. In Boiketlong, Sebokeng, residents insisted they be addressed by Zuma, not Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
In Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria, government officials tried to do damage control on Thursday after residents this week torched several buildings including a clinic, hall, and library.
Mekgwe described the death of three people in the province - in Roodepoort, Bekkersdal and Boiketlong - as too many.
“This loss was unnecessary and could have been avoided,” she said.
In January, two City of Johannesburg employees were arrested for illegally selling RDP houses, she said. She urged residents to come forward and tell the department if they had been victims.