Durban - A tense six-hour stand-off between angry service delivery protesters and police on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast has put unprecedented pressure on the thin blue line between order and anarchy.
Hundreds of residents protested near Ixopo on Wednesday, burning tyres and barricading the R56 at Ofafa with uprooted trees.
An Ubuhlebezwe Municipality ANC councillor said he feared for his life.
“They are complaining about many things because there is no development in my ward, no electricity, no water and no community halls,” said Mthokozi Sithole, the ANC councillor for Phomolala.
“They want to hit me. They want to kill me because they say I am talking lies to them. I need help.
“They want my blood,” he said, adding that most of the protesters were unemployed.
Sithole said he needed a bodyguard because his life was in danger.
He told the Daily News he had raised the residents’ issues with his party’s regional structure.
Ubuhlebezwe mayor Zamo Nxumalo said police had battled for six hours to disperse the angry crowds.
“They were burning tyres and wood but there was no violence,” Nxumalo said.
This is the fourth public protest in KZN, and the second related to service delivery issues, after Tuesday’s protest near Umkomaas.
The other two were at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology campuses.
Countrywide, there have been a staggering 2 965 public protests from November to January, according to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
He said the SAPS was beefing up its 4 700-strong public policing units to about 9 000 officers to deal with the protests.
Also, new police recruits were being given basic public order policing training, the minister said.
There were conflicting reports as to how many residents had taken part in Wednesday’s protest. Nxumalo said there were 300 protesters, but the NFP’s Ixopo chairman, Mnyamezwe Mkhize, said there were about 3 000.
Said Nxumalo: “We told them they are blocking the route and I appealed to them to move out of the road. They overpowered us until the SAPS got back up.”
The protesters dispersed only after a “long battle” with the police, he said.
Nxumalo said the municipality had addressed residents in October regarding the delays in delivering electricity, water and housing to the area.
He said the municipality was busy laying a bulk water pipeline and Eskom was upgrading its network.
He said the municipality had also audited its housing register to root out fraudulent applications.
“We told them that (they) were complaining about something we had explained in October,” he said.
Mkhize, who is also a local councillor, said: “There is no development in that area, no water, no electricity and the roads are really bad. They are not tarred.
“Residents blocked the road with trees to bring their grievances to the attention of the municipality.
“They just wanted the councillors to come listen to them and when they did they dispersed,” he said.
Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said the protest lasted from 5am until 11am and that police had managed to reopen the road at 11.49am.
“The protest was peaceful. A case of illegal gathering was opened at the Ixopo SAPS for investigation and no arrests have been made,” Zwane said.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society director, Patrick Bond, said South Africa had the highest number of public protests per capita in the world.
“The other country that consistently since the early 2000s registered high numbers of protests is China.
“But the repressive government there stopped publishing statistics in 2010 when the number hit 200 000 (for the year),” Bond said.
“With 1.4 billion people, that rate is still about 40 percent lower than our rate of 10 000 with 50 million people.”
Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Johan Burger said he welcomed the decision to boost the number of public order police to deal with protests, but added it was concerning that police had to continually face the wrath of protesters.
“There were 43 public order policing units in 2006 and 7 000 staff and as a result of restructuring they lost 20 of their 43 units and almost 60 percent of their staff were transferred to police stations,” Burger said.
He said former police commissioner Jackie Selebi had believed these units were unnecessary because the country was “quiet” but he had failed to understand the need to sharpen their skills and training.
Burger said this “absolutely ludicrous” basis for restructuring became apparent during the xenophobic violence in 2008 when the SANDF had to be deployed.