Malmesbury - Police arrested 26 people for public violence during hours of running battles with protesters in Malmesbury yesterday after Lingelethu residents took to the streets and tried to burn down a municipal building.

Residents, angry at a perceived halt in the rollout of government housing in recent years, succeeded in seeing the N7 closed for most of the morning and early afternoon. The N7 is adjacent to the township.

There were riotous scenes as hundreds of protesters charged at police armoured vehicles while pelting journalists and Public Order Police with stones. Roads were blocked with burning tyres and municipal vehicles vandalised.

Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. A police helicopter circled low. From time to time, a group of officers broke away from the main police contingent. As they returned, they were seen dragging protesters into waiting police vehicles.

The riot came in response to a perceived failure of the Swartland Municipality to respond to a memorandum handed to it last week asking for “decent housing” for all the township’s residents, and improved water, electricity and sewer line services. Residents also demanded they receive electricity directly from Eskom.

Willie van Rooy, who said he was a community leader, accused the municipality, to which electricity accounts are paid, of overcharging residents and cutting off their services if bills weren’t paid. But

Joggie Scholtz, Swartland’s municipal manager, said residents were attempting to access electricity for free. Eskom, he said, did not have the capacity to follow up and retrieve payment from defaulting account holders.

Scholtz said municipalities could only roll out housing according to funds available from provincial and national government. He acknowledged a backlog of more than 6 000 houses in the municipality and that some had been on the waiting list for up to 12 years.

Van Rooy accused the municipality of not having made funds available for housing delivery in Lingelethu for the next three years. Scholtz acknowledged this but emphasised that Swartland budgeted between R19 million and R28m for housing annually over the next three financial years. This would go towards completing the Abbotsdale housing project on the N7 towards Cape Town. This meant there would be no building of government housing in Lingelethu before the 2017/18 financial year.

Housing MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela said Swartland had a good track record of spending its annual housing budget and the housing backlog in Lingelethu and elsewhere in the the municipal area was consistent with shortages nationally.

The municipality committed to meeting community leaders after bail had been granted to the 26. Scholtz said though the municipality was not to blame for the housing shortage, local government “bore the brunt” of frustrations. He said explanations about national budget shortages and housing backlogs were unlikely to appease Lingelethu’s residents.

Police spokesman Constable Lorencial Johnson said the 26 arrested would appear in Malmesbury Magistrate’s Court next week.

Weekend Argus