Durban — Just two days after eThekwini’s mayor addressed the community, residents of Phoenix barricaded themselves in and shut down the suburb on Monday.
Public Order Police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to remove those who were blocking entry and exit points to Phoenix.
The residents held the protest to raise awareness of their plight, ongoing water shortages being among the issues.
A resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that the protest was not peaceful.
“More than 100 000 people were prevented from going to work. Our salaries will now be docked by an average of R500 and our children have been deprived of a day’s education.
“It is disturbing when the organisers are wealthy business people who have nothing to lose. We are working-class people and need to work to provide for our families. These fat cat organisers must stop using the poor for their own political objectives,” said the resident.
The person added that mayor Mxolisi Kaunda made it clear at Saturday’s meeting that the problem was being attended to and would be sorted out.
He said there was no need for the protest, which has brought more financial hardship and no results with regard to the water outages.
From as early as 6am, residents blocked off various intersections with placards. One of the placards read “Water is a human right,” while another proclaimed “Together, we can!”
Civil group Voice of Phoenix (VOP) issued a memorandum to the eThekwini Municipality at the meeting on Saturday.
Among the issues raised were: water, electricity and municipal by-laws.
With reference to water, they said that they had experienced regular water outages and these had led to many difficulties, especially for the elderly. Yet despite the outages, VOP highlighted, residents were still being billed.
“We demand that any billing errors that have occurred on statements to residents that are higher than normal be reversed. Residents must pay their normal amounts as previously billed. Also, we demand that the billing statements sent to ratepayers must be current billing statements.”
Regarding electricity, residents complained about billing despite having power outages outside the scheduled load shedding.
Also, in the event of extended outages, the City must try to reimburse residents due to spoilt food.
In terms of by-laws, the VOP asked if the City could communicate with them quickly (within seven days) whenever an issue of irregular billing and lack of maintenance occurred – before taking matters into their own hands.
Addressing the community, mayor Kaunda said the City was implementing a programme of action, including short-term interventions which will make a difference in Phoenix, Verulam and other northern areas.
“Please allow us to implement what we’ve set for ourselves to be a response to you as members of the community.”
Kaunda acknowledged that some community members had been able to purchase tanks at their own private cost, but said that once residents connect to those tanks it could lead to the problem being exacerbated.
He encouraged residents to try to save as much rainwater as possible and then allow the municipality to assist with circulation.
Kaunda also used the opportunity to address the community on race, saying that the water scarcity issue was not racialised as it affected everyone. Kaunda said the City knew what it was doing and was addressing the water crisis.
“Anyone who wants to conduct a protest or to raise their grievances – whether through picketing or marching – is allowed to do so.
“What is disallowed by law is when you begin blocking those who want to attend school. Once you stop an ill person who is trying to go to a clinic you are breaking the law because you’re saying that person must die/succumb to their illness in their vehicle.
“To combat this, we have deployed the police, not to negotiate, but to remove those blocking the roads,” he said.
A City official at the meeting told residents that the municipality’s infrastructure did have sufficient capacity, but the intake/quantity it receives was not sufficient.
“This is why some areas outside the north experience water shedding. It is for this reason that we are currently busy with Umkomaas Dam, aiming to supplement the water quantity itself.
“Regarding maintenance of infrastructure, we’re supposed to average around 8% – we are not there yet – because when eThekwini inherited areas that were previously under the Ilembe District and Ugu municipalities, most of them did not have infrastructure.
“The municipality had to prioritise extending infrastructure to those areas. In the process of doing that, we were not able to keep up with the process of maintenance,” the official stated.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Nqobile Gwala said three suspects aged between 24, 26 and 50 were arrested for public violence. A 50-year-old man was also charged for unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition. No fatalities were reported.
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