Pietermaritzburg - Chaos erupted in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg, when 100 angry residents from a nearby informal settlement protested early on Monday after their illegal electricity connections were disconnected.
Protesters used burning tyres, boulders and branches to barricade a stretch of Regina Road, near Kharina Secondary School, in the usually quiet area.
The disturbance forced pupils to go home and the school was closed for the day. Heaps of burnt rubbish and broken glass littered the streets as protesters toyi-toyied, while police, fire officials and paramedics kept watch.
A policeman at the scene said rubber bullets had to be fired to disperse protesters when they began stoning the police.
Some residents complained that the protesters had thrown stones at their vehicles and windows, while others said they were too scared to venture out of their homes.
Regina Road resident Annie Chetty said she was woken up by breaking glass and loud screams early on Monday, and was shocked to see a large mob blocking the road.
“My child who is in Grade 11 at Kharina could not go to school… because of the protest. It was so scary,” she said.
Chetty said illegal electricity connections were a major problem in the neighbourhood.
“We often experience blackouts or power surges that damage our appliances. It makes me so angry, but I can understand why these people are forced to steal electricity.”
One of the protesters who spoke to the Daily News said they were demonstrating because Msunduzi municipal officials had come to the informal settlement over the weekend and disconnected their illegal electricity connections.
“How are we expected to survive the winter without electricity? If they don’t want us to steal electricity then they must give us power in the shacks. We are human beings too,” said Zakhele Madalose, who has lived in the settlement for five years.
Police Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed charges of public violence and illegal gathering were being investigated by the Mountain Rise police.
No injuries were reported.
Municipal communication officer Lungelo Sithole had not responded to requests for comment by last night.
The Msunduzi municipality, backed by the provincial treasury, started to electrify the Swapo and Nhlalakahle informal settlements in the city early this month. R7 million has been made available to electrify the homes of 2 000 residents living there.
The project was expected to be completed by December.
The municipality said it would start with the roll-out in the Ezinketheni informal settlement in Copesville, and then move to other settlements.
Earlier this year Mayor Chris Ndlela also promised to eradicate illegal electricity connections following several deaths. Since July, seven people have been killed because of illegal electricity connections.
In March, a man, 37, was electrocuted when he walked over live wires.
In February two people lost their lives and a boy, 14, was killed in January after a ball he was playing with rolled into a stream. When he went to fetch it, he stepped on an illegal connection and was electrocuted.
In September, Moshe Motoung was electrocuted, also in Jika Joe, and Lucky Mzila was found lying dead in a ditch in Regina Road, Northdale, on top of illegal electrical cables that snaked their way to the nearby informal settlement. In July, Aviwe Vava, 6, of the Eastern Cape, who was visiting her parents at the Jika Joe settlement, slipped and was electrocuted as she grabbed a live wire to break her fall.