Cape Town - There’s nowhere to go except to hide at the local police station. It has been 24 hours since his home was ransacked and his grocery store emptied by looters when violent protests flared up on the streets of Langa on Wednesday.
The Ethiopian refugee, who did not want to be named, feels defeated. His children need a roof over their heads but he has lost everything. His friends, who also own businesses around the township’s taxi rank, have also suffered - watching their shops go up in smoke with the tyres that protesters burnt in the streets.
The riots that effectively shut down the township this week will have a long-lasting impact on residents who spent Thursday picking up the pieces.
Debris lay scattered across the road, the smouldering remains of upended bins a reminder of the chaotic clash between protesters and police.
Protesters not only ransacked shops, but also toppled electricity poles and streetlights damaging the street. They threw rocks at authorities, and they smashed up cars and burnt bakkies. Police said 20 protesters had been arrested for public violence.
A ward councillor in the area has lashed out at the “wrong-footed” protest.
“This was a march of hooligans,” Mayenzeke Sopaqa, an ANC member, said. “Some people here have lost their jobs because they couldn’t go to work and now the budget must be redirected from improving our township towards repairing the damage they have caused.”
He said the damaged roads would severely set back service delivery in some of the struggling parts of Langa.
“We do have issues with service delivery but this is not the way to protest.”
Residents who attempted to go to work on Wednesday were chased, and even beaten. Most were unable to leave the area for the whole day and were therefore absent from work.
The protest was allegedly sparked by mayor Patricia de Lille’s response to a memorandum on housing handed over by the Langa Joint Committee last week. The city on Thursday condemned the protests for damaging vital infrastructure, hindering service delivery across the city and costing ratepayers a small fortune.
“Safety and Security has spent an estimated R100 000 in overtime costs since Tuesday evening when deployment of law enforcement officers commenced in Langa as per the early warnings (we) received,” said the city’s mayoral committee member for human settlements Siyabulela Mamkeli. “We had to draw staff away from other operational areas.”
While a lot of infrastructure was damaged during the riots, the city did not yet have a figure for how much the repairs would cost. However, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said it had already run into the hundreds of thousand.
“It’s infuriating because this was clearly just a strike for strike’s sake.”
The city has challenged allegations made by the Langa joint committee that they are not providing housing.
“In Langa in particular, considering the financial and human resources the city is investing to bring redress through delivery, violent protest action is mind-boggling,” said Mamkeli.
New developments in the township include the construction of 463 rental apartments as part of the Langa Hostel transformation. Over the next five years 1 320 units will be built.
Meanwhile, Michael Bagraim - a former labour analyst who is now the DA’s deputy spokesman for Labour - has said that employees who lost their jobs as a result of the strikes had been fired illegally.
“They definitely have a case they can win. It doesn’t matter what kind of job they had, if they lost it because they were unable to make it to work - that is unlawful. I recommend they approach their unions and get the ball rolling.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said there was no more violence in Langa on Thursday.