Municipal workers clean a street in the Pietermaritzburg CBD yesterday that had been blocked with burning tyres and rubbish during a protest by hostel residents on Tuesday night. Thami Magubane
DURBAN - The violent protests that turned Pietermaritzburg into a “war zone” on Tuesday night were sparked by a payment mix-up between two government organisations.

Angry hostel residents had threatened to storm the city hall. They barricaded busy roads with burning tyres in a protest against the Msunduzi Municipality after it disconnected electricity and water supply to the hostel.

It has since emerged that the chaos resulted from a payment mix-up between the municipality and the provincial Department of Human Settlement which owns the hostel.

The Msunduzi Municipality had disconnected water and electricity to the Masukwane Hostel because of non-payment.

The residents barricaded East Street, one of the busiest routes in the city centre, with burning tyres and forced a shutdown of a string of businesses.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said mayor Themba Njilo met representatives of the hostel and Department of Human Settlement officials to arrange payment, which led to the reconnection of services.

Mbulelo Baloyi, spokesperson for the department, said they had requested the municipality to allow them to pay for May services to the hostel in April because of the closure of the Department of Human Settlements’ debtor system.

“The municipality went ahead and disconnected yesterday despite payment having been processed,” he said.

Baloyi said the department was paying for services in the hostel because of the difficulty of collecting rent from those who lived there.

The chaos that accompanied the protest was still visible yesterday morning with burnt tyres blocking the road.

Attempts to speak to the hostel dwellers were unsuccessful yesterday. The hostel itself seemed to be falling apart, with no visible signs of maintenance of the physical structure or the grounds.

The walls in some of the buildings had collapsed and parts of the buildings didn’t have windows.

Overgrown grass was evident all over the site and, with rubbish piling up, the location resembled a dump.

One resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the municipality was at fault for failing to warn residents that services would be cut.

He said residents last paid for services almost 25 years ago when there was still a collection office at the hostel.

A businessman operating on East Street spoke about the chaos he witnessed during the protest.

“They started shortly before my closing time. I had to close early and I lost about R3000 in trade.

“It was chaotic.

“I heard a few gunshots and I believe some of the shops which closed late were looted.

“This went on through the night and when I arrived the next morning a huge ball of fire was burning on the road,” he said.