WATCH: Violent protests over power outages rock Pietermaritzburg, shops burnt and looted
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DURBAN - THE chaos that erupted in Pietermaritzburg yesterday may herald the start of things to come.
That was the warning from some municipal councillors and union leaders following violent protests in the city that resulted in a shop being set on fire and others looted.
Yesterday’s protest, one of many that have been taking place in the city in the past few days as a result of power outages that have lasted for days in some cases, started at a hostel on East Street and in the Jika Joe informal settlement.
The city’s electricity infrastructure is nearing collapse and most of the city centre was without power yesterday.
A job sheet released by the municipality yesterday showed that more than 20 streets were without power and needed to be attended to by its day team of electricians. Some suburbs have been without power for at least five days.
Some of these areas had been restored by yesterday afternoon.
The municipality has publicly admitted that it is struggling to maintain the electricity infrastructure and signed an agreement with Eskom for the power utility to maintain some key substations on its behalf.
Protesting hostel dwellers closed a road with burning tyres, and at midday the protest turned violent, with a shop being burned and others looted on the same street.
Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said a group of about 300 community members from Jika Joe informal settlement embarked on protest action at about 6am.
“They blockaded Masukwana and Church streets with burning tyres. The road is still closed and motorists are advised to use alternative routes. A shop has since been set alight, but the fire was put out by the fire department,” she said at midday.
DA councillor Sibogiseni Majola said he feared that if the power outage crisis was not resolved, more violent protests would occur.
“The whole of Pietermaritzburg is going to burn if this is not resolved. Today the protest was in the city centre, yesterday it was in the Sweetwaters area, and before that it was in the Cinderella park area. All these areas have been without power for days,” he said.
Union leaders painted an equally dire picture of the future of the city.
”Pietermaritzburg as a city is dead. The situation and the state of Pietermaritzburg is out of control, and it is shocking,” said SA Municipal Workers Union regional leader Linda Gcabashe. “When the power went out, the community started protesting,” he said.
“They blocked the workers from going to the substations that were out. We told our members to stay away from the area until it is safe.
“The city is filthy, overrun by homeless people.
“The rubbish is not being collected, houses that were meant to accommodate two people are now being used to accommodate 10, which is contributing to the pollution,” he said.
ACDP councillor Rienus Niemand said yesterday’s violence was unacceptable. “The situation on the ground is disastrous with service delivery almost non-existent.
“Law and order is paramount and must not be compromised lest anarchy reigns.”
Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the city leadership was working to resolve the issue and was engaging with community members.
She said that in the hostel there was a problem of illegal connections and non-payment for services.