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Johannesburg - Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was forced to leave Bekkersdal in a police Nyala on Sunday after angry residents stoned the church she was visiting.
Her visit came after a tense week of violent service delivery protests in which a young man was killed.
She and several other members from the province’s executive committee spent Sunday morning at church services in the area at the request of members of various faith-based groups.
These groups were reporting back to residents on the interventions they wanted to see in Bekkersdal.
Some sections of the community began to gather outside, throwing stones at the churches and barricading the roads.
“Obviously, the natural thing to do was to leave the area in the interest of the safety of the churches,” said Mokonyane’s spokesman Thebe Mohatle. He said the police had advised the premier to leave the area in an Nyala.
She expressed disappointment at the attack and vowed not to be intimidated, saying the government wouldn’t be held to ransom.
“I will never run away from anything. I will not run away from our people when they have a crisis,” she said.
Bekkersdal has been plagued by violent protests in recent weeks, with residents demanding the removal of their mayor.
Government property has been vandalised, and pupils have been taken out of schools.
Roads were barricaded with rocks and burning tree stumps on Sunday.
Residents were demanding the release of those arrested during the protests - otherwise looting would continue in the area.
Mokonyane slammed the residents for disrupting church services - something, she said, had never been seen - even during the apartheid era. “Churches were our sanctuaries,” she said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said on Sunday the police had intensified their deployment in Bekkersdal.
Since the protests began, a group of 59 people had appeared in the Westonaria Magistrate’s Court on various charges, including attempted murder, burglary, theft, suspected possession of stolen goods and public violence.
* On Sunday night, community leaders said protest action had been put on hold to allow the government time to investigate the residents’ grievances.
“We’re suspending the protests and allowing schooling to continue and for the situation to return to normal,” community leader Thabang Wesi told Sapa.