N1 protests turn violent
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Lynnette Johns and Henk Kruger
TEAR gas, rubber bullets and a water cannon were used to quell a service delivery protest in Touws River yesterday when hundreds of residents forced the closure of the N1, which stayed closed for most of the day and was reopened early last night.
The Zion Park community was protesting about a lack of services on a piece of municipal land they had invaded a year ago. They have threatened to continue protesting until their demands are met.
Twenty-six people were arrested and many were hit by rubber bullets. The police also fired “blanks” at people.
By late morning, police reinforcements arrived with a water cannon, which was used to blast the protesters with blue-coloured water.
The protest was prompted following a fire which killed a family of three last week.
Community leader Michael Visagie said residents’ simmering anger erupted because they felt their voices were not being heard.
Municipal manager Gerrit Matthyse, however, said the municipality was in constant negotiations with Zion Park residents and that the protest had taken it by surprise.
Yesterday, burning tyres and large stones littered the N1 as residents clashed with police. By yesterday afternoon more than 1 000 people had joined the protest.
The N1 was closed early yesterday morning on both sides of the road. Vehicles were backed up for 10 to 15 kilometres, awaiting the re-opening of the roads – primarily heavy trucks, for which the N1 is the country’s main haulage artery.
Provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa said the road had been reopened at 2pm, but an hour later police were forced to close it again.
“There is no alternative route so people are stranded, traffic is backed up by 10 to 15 kilometres on both sides,” he said.
There have been scores of service delivery protests across the province this year, many of them violent and destructive.
Yesterday, President Jacob Zuma said at the SA Local Government Association (Salga) national conference in Midrand that SA had achieved far more in 18 years in service delivery than any other country.
He said government successes in service delivery were lost in the hurly-burly of competitive politics and non-delivery of services often had to do with problems inherited from apartheid.
The Institute for Security Studies warned that if violent protests were allowed to continue over a prolonged period, they had the potential to spread and develop into a fully-fledged revolt.
Johan Burger, of the ISS, said that according to SAPS there were 8 004 “crowd management” incidents in 2004/5, of which 622 were “unrest” incidents requiring direct intervention – arrests and the use of force.
In 2011/12 the number of crowd management incidents escalated by almost 38 percent to 11 033 incidents, while the number of “unrest” related incidents rose by more than 75 percent to 1 091 cases.
“There are indications that these so-called unrest incidents are not only on the rise, but that they are becoming increasingly violent,” Burger said.
The ward councillor for the area, Patrick Smith, said they had been chased away two weeks ago when he, Matthyse and a contractor arrived at the settlement to install 14 chemical toilets and 14 taps.
“They are wrong. This is the first community saying no to chemical toilets,” he said.
Smith said installing water toilets would be fruitless and wasteful expenditure as a housing plan needed to be finalised.
A year ago, 80 families moved on to the vacant municipal land and built shacks next to a refuse station.
Last week a pregnant woman, her four-year-old son and her husband died in a fire when their shack caught alight. By the time a fire engine came from Worcester, it was too late to save them.
ANC PR councillor Joseph Januarie said certain areas, such as Zion Park, were being neglected.
“People have a right to protest and to be listened to. There is no basic services and the DA-led municipality must give answers,” Januarie said.
Matthyse said there were people who had been waiting for between 15 and 20 years for houses.
Zion Park, he said, was a newly established informal settlement, but 10 hectares of land had been identified for housing.
“There has been constant communication between the municipality and the community. They refused temporary toilets and the stand pipes and wanted a flush toilet for every family,” Matthyse said.
Visagie said about 1 000 people were living in Zion Park.
“There used to be another informal settlement on this piece of land and it had flushing toilets. Why can’t we also have water toilets? That was the agreement with the municipality,” he said.
Zion Park residents used the bush to relieve themselves and there were four taps, Visagie said.