OPINION - Violent protests in South Africa date back to the apartheid era and ironically they continue to characterise the new dispensation.
In the past, violent protests were largely directed to the apartheid regime after failing to heed peaceful demonstrations against injustice meted out to the majority of this country.
Such peaceful protests resulted in bloodshed, thanks to the minority regime that was hell-bent on keeping the status quo benefiting the few.
The peace-loving masses of this country were left with no choice but to embark on militant means to get the ear of the blood-thirsty regime. The country was made ungovernable and the masses did not relent despite the state of emergencies that resulted in innumerable freedom fighters being eliminated. They wanted nothing but freedom and their heroism and determination gave birth to the democratic elections in 1994.
It is worrying that the new dispensation is now plagued by violent so-called service delivery protests that are characterised by unceasing damage to state property. In many parts of the country, we have seen newly built and state of the art libraries, government offices, schools, clinics etc being torched by irate members of the community. This behaviour is tantamount to spitting on the face of the democratic government that is spending millions to bring service delivery to the doorsteps of those neglected by the old order. Many have forgotten that making long journeys to access government service was the order of the day during the old order.
Since 2004 we have seen unrest with a dramatic upsurge in 2008. This also coincided with the xenophobic violence directed to foreign nationals which our city was not spared from. We are not saying the new order is not infallible, mistakes have been made but they are not equal to quality service delivery our municipality and government in general have rolled out. We also have an open door policy where those who are aggrieved in our society are free to air their service delivery grievances without any fear of being arrested or reprimanded.
In the eThekwini Municipality, a week hardly passes now without roads being blockaded forcing law abiding residents to seek for alternative routes to their destinations because certain residents are demanding service delivery in many areas of development. This has resulted in many of our residents arriving late at work with the economy bearing the brunt of this undesirable situation to the detriment of the city’s efforts to create much needed job opportunities that we all aspire to be created.
Recently the city had its hands full dealing with land invaders whose conduct has resulted to the city having to seek the help of the Durban High Court to get a court order to evict them after they cleared a bush at Mary Thipe Road in Manor Gardens to build informal dwellings. One of the reasons they were advancing was that they have been waiting for too long for free houses to be provided to them, hence they decided to break the law and invade municipal land earmarked for a new development.
Residents from the suburb of Manor Gardens on the other hand were calling the city nonstop out of desperation, demanding that we move with speed to remove the land grabbers. They were worried that their properties are going to be devalued after spending a fortune investing in them. They forgot that before we evict land invaders there are legal processes stipulated in the Unlawful of Occupation of Land Act of (1998) (PIE) that needed to be adhered to before we evict. After getting a green light from the Durban High Court, we acted expeditiously.
Truth be told, the area of Cato Crest has become a noose around the city’s neck. This is one area in the city where billions have been spent to clear age old shacks but this development exercise appears to be a moving target because shack landlords have some money to make. Despite us building houses, shacks are not ceasing to mushroom. With a shoestring budget, the city has done a lot of work in this area and evidence is there for everyone to see. Following this excellent service delivery record, we are of the conviction that we have become a victim of our own success.
Without any fear of contraction, eThekwini Municipality, is head and shoulders above the rest in the country. To date, it has built in excess of 200 000 houses that are currently providing shelter to over 1 million people since 1994 and this unrest is not going to distract us. We will continue to serve our people with distinction under these inclement circumstances.
It is public knowledge that we have recently purchased land to the tune of over 300 million to build new houses. We have also provided electricity, running water and decent sanitation to existing informal settlements that we have not yet cleared. We call upon anyone to conduct their own inspection in this regard to ascertain the veracity of what we are stating as facts.
The incident that have happened recently where the offices of KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (KZN Cogta) were torched, is very disturbing. It clearly gives credence to the narrative that our communities are being misled by certain leaders advocating for vacant land to be invaded to score cheap political points. The damage that have been caused is in excess of 17 million. The investigation is currently underway as to what is it that caused the inferno. It is suspected that this barbaric act is related to the unrest that has become to characterise the area of Cato Crest recently.
A few days ago innocent citizens had to navigate roads that were littered with rubble and burning tires allegedly put by the community protesting against us demolishing their illegally built shacks. It should be noted that there is no amount of protests and intimidation that would result in the city bending over backwards to allow lawlessness to reign. We have got a responsibility to also protect the rights of our ratepayers and law-abiding citizens and we are unshaken.
The disaster that has occured at Cogta offices, is indeed the last straw. Working with the police’s Crime Intelligence, we are very optimistic that we will eventually nab all those responsible for inciting our communities to embark on these violent service delivery protests. We want to set an example that will send a clear message to all would be law breakers that we are not a banana municipality.
We are appealing to anyone with information that could lead to those responsible for setting alight KZN Cogta offices to be a good citizen and come forward to work with our law enforcement agencies to apprehend culprits responsible for this illicit act. Cogta has set aside 100 000 as a reward for anyone who would furnish the police with credible information that would result to arrests.
Sipho Nzuza is the City Manager of the eThekwini Municipality.