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Cape Town - Police, paramedics, commuters and journalists were pelted with bricks and glass bottles as violent protests flared up on the streets of Langa on Wednesday.
The township was essentially shut down by an angry mob who ran through the streets, looting shops and lighting fires.
In one incident a motorist was trying to turn on to Bhunga Avenue, navigating smouldering piles of plastic bins, when protesters surrounded the car and began throwing stones at it.
“Oh no, that was a big mistake,” said a Langa resident watching from behind makeshift barriers of scattered cinderblocks.
The driver was just one of many commuters who found themselves in the firing line.
While it was originally dubbed a “housing protest”, it morphed throughout the day, with some residents chanting for the victims of the Marikana massacre, others for better living conditions.
There was only one consensus: nobody from Langa was going to be allowed to leave the area to go to work. Those who tried were harassed and some even attacked.
“There was a man that they dragged from the train station and hit with sjamboks,” said a resident taking refuge in her garage.
She, like everybody else, wanted to remain anonymous. Like everybody else, she was scared of the protesters.
One group torched a local bakery, another looted shops around the taxi rank. They were carrying makeshift weapons, from broken bottles and stones to rudimentary axes.
They scattered when police Nyalas sporadically rumbled down the road and regrouped when the coast was clear.
They pulled down a streetlight which smashed into the road.
The township became a no-go area. When the Cape Argus tried to drive inside the area, residents warned the team to leave. “They are angry with you,” we were told.
Paramedics had the same problem. Metro EMS spokesman Robert Daniels said that despite numerous calls to help patients in the township, they were unable to go inside.
However, by lunchtime they were able to respond to some of the more serious cases.
“For the rest, such as high blood pressure patients, they will have to wait until it’s safe for us to go back in.”
At the time of going to print nobody had been injured during the protests.
Police spokesman Andre Traut said 20 people had been arrested for public violence. At 3pm the roads into the township were still closed and guarded by a strong police contingent.
The protests followed attempts this week to sabotage railway services in the area.
Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said on Tuesday people had lit fires on the tracks leading to the Langa station. They did the same on Wednesday morning, and when the company cleared the tracks they pelted the incoming trains with rocks.
“We have cancelled all services within 4km of the station until the protest is over,” she said on Wednesday.
Very few residents were able to make it to work. Some managed to scurry away in bakkies, others snuck through side-streets and backroads.
By 5pm on Wednesday, Traut said, the situation was under control.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, on the key arterial route, Baden Powell Drive, burning tyres blocked morning commuter traffic between the N2 and Mew Way.
Twin barricades were set up by residents of Makhaza in Khayelitsha. By 10.30am on Wednesday police had dispersed the crowds.