MINISTER of police Nathi Mthethwa yesterday faced an angry Olifantshoek community with furious demands from more than 300 protesters calling on the town’s mayor to resign.
Mthethwa had to adjourn the meeting after it became clear that the situation was spiralling out of control, choosing instead to talk to police management and community representatives in private.
Violent protests in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District are thought to have started in Olifantshoek in May this year. Thousands of pupils have been kept out of school, with parents and community members saying that the status quo would remain until their demands are met.
The source of the anger, which led to the violent protests, remains unclear, although some claim that community members are angry about shoddy roads, an unresponsive mayor, and alleged corruption at the municipality.
Yesterday, Mthethwa’s spokes-man, Brigadier Masebueng Mochologi, said the minister visited several places where properties were destroyed during the protests.
The “imbizo” with the community at a local community hall eventually became uncontrollable, although no incidents of violence were reported.
“The situation was out of control. Everyone was shouting at each other and nobody wanted to listen to anyone. The environment was actually not conducive. Everyone kept shouting for the mayor to step down,” Mochologi said.
She added that Mthethwa then asked for five representatives from the community to come forward so that their concerns could be addressed.
These representatives met with Mthethwa, the Northern Cape MEC for transport, safety and liaison, Patrick Mabilo, and the provincial commissioner of police, Lieutenant General Janet Basson yesterday afternoon.
“The minister emphasised that property must not be destroyed and that the children must be allowed to go back to school. Yesterday, we learnt that a building belonging to the Department of Social Development and the mayor’s house were burnt down. It has been almost four months since these children have been to school. He also stated that problems cannot be resolved overnight,” said Mochologi.
“Community members referred to tenders that were irregularly awarded, corruption, nepotism within the municipality, and that there are no community meetings with the mayor. Everyone sang the same song … that the mayor must step down,” Mochologi added.
Meanwhile, a provincial task team met on Friday last week to discuss the protests. Spokesman for the Northern Cape Department of Education, Sydney Stander, said that it was decided that various stakeholders in the community should be mobilised to send pupils back to school.
“The issue of when the schools will open is not our responsibility alone but will happen as a result of parents, the community, churches and unions standing up to protect the learning space to allow our children to prepare for their future.
“Our take is that education should be understood by everybody to be critical in eradicating and pushing back the frontiers of poverty and therefore, denying our children education, is tantamount to condemning them to a future of abject poverty,” Stander said.