The Swellendam Municipality saw another vital building go up in smoke on Wednesday, along with a fire-fighting vehicle amid protest action for subsidised municipal services.
The Thusong Centre, a building in Railton that is used to provide essential services including distributing Sassa payments, was set alight after a flare-up in protest action.
This as the N2 highway was blocked with debris, and private vehicles were pelted with stones. The highway was later reopened with a large police presence in the area.
Police spokesperson Christopher Spies said that public order police and reinforcements from neighbouring stations were deployed in Swellendam.
“Reports available at this stage suggest that sporadic incidents of public violence, arson and malicious damage to property occurred in the area. The N2 highway was also blockaded with debris and vehicles pelted with stones. Members of the police responded and dispersed the group.
“The forces deployed in Swellendam will remain in the area until the situation is stabilised,” said Spies.
Last month, the municipality suffered damages worth about R20 million after an arson attack on municipal offices, while local shops were also looted.
A resident who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, said: “The municipality has not agreed to the previous list of demands. They also refused to give legality to this current action, so the protesters have sworn to keep going until they give in to their demands.
“The protest leaders were forcing people to stay away from work and threatening people that they will destroy their homes. The police were alerted earlier when protesters were placing rocks and setting fires on the N2.
“It is sad that the Thusong Centre was set on fire, so the whole community has lost their access to the post office, Sassa (social grants) office and other important things. The centre is next door to the secondary school, which was evacuated, but there were some farm children in the hostel who had nowhere to go. There were threats to burn other infrastructure –the municipality needs to solve this mess soon.”
Mayor Francois du Rand described Wednesday’s violence and destruction as an attack on the municipality.
This, as rumours spread of a planned shutdown that was expected to last for 24 hours.
“We call upon all community members to reject violence and help restore peace and security in Railton.
“We understand that there are concerns within the community, and we are committed to addressing these concerns through constructive dialogue and peaceful means.
“The municipality has made considerable efforts to engage indigent residents of Railton who qualify for subsidised services and to assist with registering them. The municipal council previously took a decision to cease automatic registration for services, and instead encourage those who qualified, to apply with the municipality.
“This was done to ensure those who could afford services were no longer unfairly benefiting from a system that is meant for those residents who live in dire conditions and need subsidised services,” said Du Rand.
He said the change in policy by the municipality has angered those who feel entitled to continue drawing free services from the municipality when they did not qualify for the subsidies.
“They wanted to continue benefiting at the cost of indigent residents,” he said.