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Cape Town - Violent protests involving a petrol bomb, burning tyres and stone-throwing crippled Cape Town yesterday, with the N2 closed for most of the day, while flights from Cape Town International Airport were delayed.
Sixty people have been arrested.
Police came under attack as more than 500 protesters threw a petrol bomb, burned tyres and attacked vehicles and police with stones. Two police officers were injured, a police spokesman said. One was hit in the face with a brick.
Police fired back with rubber bullets, and used a water cannon to bring the fires from burning tyres under control in the latest of a spate of service delivery protests that have rocked the city over recent weeks, prompting accusations that they are being orchestrated by the ANC Youth League.
Yesterday mayor Patricia de Lille continued to blame the youth league. But the ANCYL hit back, saying the provincial and city governments were playing “the blame game”.
The trouble began just before 4am yesterday, with a group of about 200 people gathered at the airport approach road. When the police and the city’s law enforcement agencies warned them to disperse, they started throwing stones and faeces.
Police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said two policemen were injured and a vehicle was damaged. A car belonging to a TV news team was also stoned in Gugulethu, but no one was injured.
Provincial disaster management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said the demonstrators left when police fired rubber bullets.
But they returned at about 8.30am, and the crowd grew throughout the day, forcing officials to close both lanes of the N2 between Mew Way and Duinefontein Road. It was only reopened after 2pm.
“At 8.30am, while the city’s solid waste management and the provincial roads department were clearing the roadway, a group of 500 protesters reassembled on the N2 and Borcherds Quarry turn-off (to the airport),” Solomons-Johannes said.
By 9.15am the violence peaked as a petrol bomb was thrown at police.
About 45 minutes later, 62 protesters were arrested.
Airports Company SA spokeswoman Deidre Hendricks said the airport was “not at risk”, but she conceded they had police at the airport and aviation security in place “should there be a threat to the national key point”.
Later yesterday, the singing protesters marched up Klipfontein Road towards the Gugulethu police station, where they demanded the arrested protesters be freed.
Their songs feted ousted ANCYL leader Julius Malema while criticising provincial premier Helen Zille, who has also blamed the league for the spate of protests. But Zille’s spokesman Zak Mbhele said they would not comment, and were leaving the mayor’s office to field queries.
Yesterday the ANCYL was adamant it was being used as a scapegoat.
Last week the league threatened to make the province ungovernable if the service delivery issue was not addressed. Khaya Yozi, chairman of the Dullah Omar region, said the seven days they gave the premier to respond ended yesterday, but they had still had no feedback.
Yozi denied they had told their members to burn tyres in the streets. “That does not make any sense. When we said that we will make the province ungovernable we were talking about the fact that there will be more marches, which will all be legal.”
He added that unless their demands were met, the ANCYL would march in the city on the 27th of every month.
Xolani Sotashe, chairman of the ANC Dullah Omar region, voiced his support for the ANCYL, slamming the provincial government allegations.
“People are trapped in serious poverty, they are fed up and they are realising that they are living in a two-tale city – one for the rich and the other for the poor.”
But De Lille was having none of it, charging that the city was being forced to waste scarce resources to contain the situation. “What is particularly disturbing is that in this well-directed action – with evidence again indicating that this was led by the ANCYL – school children were deliberately put in the front lines.”
She added that this tactic prevented police from acting.
“This kind of cowardly action speaks volumes for the values and principles of those involved. Thug-like behaviour of any kind can never be an accepted as part of our democracy,” she said.
Cape Chamber of Commerce president Michael Bagraim said the protests were not only hurting businesses, but were also harming poorer communities.
“If these people cannot get to work they will not get paid, and sometimes companies will decide to cut their losses and eliminate their employment,” he said, adding that it also sent a negative message to the international market.
Late last night police said the situation was calm, but that they were still on alert. – Additional reporting by Warda Meyer and Bianca Capazorio