Durban - Mariannridge came to a standstill on Tuesday when service and housing protests turned violent, pitting the community against police.
local primary and high schools were closed and their pupils were evacuated when police clashed with the growing crowd nearby.
One pupil said small children were crying when they were caught in the tear gas.
“All the children ran out and pushed each other,” she said.
The high school pupils then joined the protest, hurling rocks at the police.
Tyres were set alight by the community, who threw bottles, rubbish and rocks at the police and barricaded the road to stop traffic.
The protests come on the heels of a spate of service protests in the province. These have taken place in uMngeni Road in Durban, and in uMbumbulu, Ntuzuma, Greytown and the Bottlebrush informal settlement in Chatsworth.
A community member, Jenevieve Cloete, 27, said that residents were fed up with their ward councillor’s “empty” promises.
“We have spoken to councillor Mdu Gumede about our RDP houses and he keeps making promises. I live in one room with my husband and three children. We use a bucket for a toilet,” she said.
A three-month-old baby was treated for respiratory problems after inhaling tear gas and smoke.
ER24 spokesman Derrick Banks confirmed that paramedics treated the infant, who was struggling to breathe.
Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said: “Tear gas was used to disperse the crowd, and police vehicles were damaged, but there were no injuries.”
ANC regional secretary Bheki Ntshangase arrived at the scene flanked by officials of the eThekwini municipality and addressed the crowd. His pleas for the people to protest peacefully and calmly fell on deaf ears.
“I am here because the ANC runs this municipality,” he said. “Two schools are not operating. We will not tolerate schools being closed and rocks being thrown by schoolchildren,” Ntshangase said.
The municipality’s human settlements committee chairman, Nigel Gumede, said people were protesting because they wanted their houses and flats to be upgraded. Others wanted new houses.
Gumede said a meeting between himself, mayor James Nxumalo, Human Settlements MEC Ravi Pillay and the community would be held in a local hall on Friday.
No arrests were made on Tuesday, but charges of public violence and malicious damage to property were being investigated, Zwane said.
Meanwhile, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela visited Hambanathi township, near Tongaat, on Tuesday to investigate complaints of crumbling low-cost houses, the illegal sale of RDP houses and sewage spills.
She said she was also aware of allegations of the flouting of procurement procedures.
“Over the years, my office has received complaints relating to the conduct of the government with regard to the RDP housing programme. These complaints come from all corners of the country,” she said.
Disgruntled residents also told her about their inhumane treatment by police, health workers and other public servants.
Residents also reported that their councillor, Mpume Mabaso, had failed to respond to problems they reported.
Sifiso Cebokhulu, principal of Inkosibomvu High School, told Madonsela that sewerage pipes ran through his school and often burst. He said the eThekwini municipality had done nothing to resolve the problem.
Songi Nzuza said she had been on the housing waiting list since 1997.
After hearing the grievances, Madonsela promised to send them to the eThekwini municipality, the provincial legislature and the Department of Human Settlements.