Protesters bay for council manager's blood

By Vernon Mchunu and Wendy Nzama

Police had to form a ring of steel around eThekwini unicity manager Michael Sutcliffe on Thursday when a mob, protesting against the city's controversial proposal to remove poor families from council homes and put them in lower-income houses, bayed for his blood.

After climbing the steps of Durban City Hall, the angry protesters were pushed back by a contingent of Metro Police and South African Police Service officers, including the Mounted Police Unit.

Later, Sutcliffe accepted a memorandum outlining the grievances of the protesters.

The memorandum was addressed to Mayor Obed Mlaba, who was not present.

The demonstration follows a decision by the city to relocate those residents who have failed to pay their rental arrears for council-owned flats.

In terms of the new policy, residents who insist on staying behind will be expected to repay the council over the next three years.

The municipality is owed about R18-million in rent arrears.

The residents, however, have declared a dispute with the authorities, and have refused to commit themselves to settling their debts.

They are also refusing to move to the new houses, and have described the new accommodation as "toilets".

In its defence, the city says its stance is lenient.

Sutcliffe said during a recent media briefing that the council did not want to evict those who could not pay.

Instead, he said, the city had come up with the option of finding cheaper accommodation for the indigent, where they would dwell free of rent charges and be provided 6kl of water every month at no cost to them.

Nevertheless, several civic groups - including the Wentworth Development Forum, the Landless People's Movement Forum (LPMF) and the Concerned Citizens' Forum (CCF) - led the aggrieved residents in the demonstration.

Ashwin Desai, a sociologist and chairperson of the CCF, said the policy was a reflection of apartheid's displacement policies and would not be accepted by the residents.

Meanwhile, civic groups have begun a campaign to mobilise people against the policy.

"About 300 members of the LPMF resolved to forge unity with the urban poor who face forced removal," said the LPMF.

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