Johannesburg - Some Soweto residents caused mayhem on Tuesday night when they looted shops, stoned cars and destroyed ATMs in Dube in a protest over electricity outages.
When The Star arrived in the area on Tuesday night, dozens of police manned the streets brandishing assault rifles.
A Pep and a KFC at a local shopping centre was broken into and looted, while Jozi FM studios were vandalised after protesters, believed to be hostel dwellers, threw rocks through windows. A nearby bakery was also burgled and FNB ATMs smashed with stones.
Some protesters blockaded the streets with burning tyres.
A security guard said as soon as electricity was cut off at about 6.30pm, hostel dwellers took advantage of the dark and ran amok.
The owner of the bakery and his staff ran for their lives as the looters entered the shop, said the guard, who was the first to arrive on the scene.
“It is not the first time it happens. Last year, they (hostel dwellers) did the same during load shedding. We don’t know what must happen to stop this opportunist. It’s extremely frustrating,” he said.
Tuesday night’s protests come just after UJ researcher Boitumelo Maruping revealed that the country experienced an average of 13 protests a day, mainly over wages, service delivery, crime, dismissals, unemployment and housing.
Over the past 17 years, there have been at least 67 750 protests.
“Protests seem to be the measure that the majority of the poor use to access democracy,” said Maruping.
So why are so many thousands still protesting, every day, repeatedly, across the country?
“Those in power have to do more listening, as well as more implementing,” said Professor Peter Alexander.
“One way of avoiding protests over electric lights is by providing electric lights.”
They are part of the team of researchers from UJ’s Social Change Research Unit that analysed the SAPS’s counts of protests.
On Tuesday, the team released their report, “Counting police-recorded protests: based on South African Police Service data”.
They looked at incident data collected by the police through their incident registration information system from 1997 to 2013.
Those 67 750 incidents are police-recorded protests, not general crowd-related incidents.
They are about 43 percent of the 156 230 crowd incidents logged by police over the same period. And they were probably under-reported, warned the researchers.
The police count protests by the day, so if a group protested over three days, it would be logged as three incidents.
Those protests, which the researchers called “popular mobilisation in support of a collective grievance”, are overall peaceful.
Researchers said about 80 percent of protests were orderly, about 10 percent disruptive (like blockading roads) and 10 percent violent (with injuries or damage).
The labour-related protests were more orderly than the community-related protests, at only about 68 percent.
There was a “steady rise” in the proportion of both labour and community protests that were disorderly, either violent or disruptive, said the report.
Researcher Boikanyo Moloto said her assessment of the incident reports indicated that violence often flared after police intervened, for example by shooting rubber bullets.
Labour issues topped the protesters’ concerns, with about 46 percent of protests attributed to this.
Community protests were the second biggest issue at about 22 percent of the total and complaints about wages the biggest part of that.
People were also annoyed about issues including local government, the high crime rate, housing, student issues, taxis, borders, violence against women and children, rent, elections, sport and pensions.
Xenophobia was listed as the main cause of just 0.2 percent of protests.
“Most protests are about labour and community matters; xenophobia is only present in a small minority,” said the report.
The most protests were in 2012 with 5 589; the least in 2004, with less than half that.
Gauteng had the most protests and Northern Cape the least, but looking at protests per 100 000 people, the Northern Cape and North West had the most.
The researchers called the actions the “rebellion of the poor” and rebellions by communities, but emphasised that there was more to it than just service delivery protests.
Institute for Security Studies researcher Lizette Lancaster welcomed the study, saying it showed how communities were under siege over a range of issues, including violent crime.
On Tuesday night, rioters pelted police vehicles with stones, prompting the officers to fire shots into the air in an attempt to disperse them.
A group of four men stopped a car, smashed its windscreen, stole the radio and fled with the car keys, leaving the owner stranded.
By 8pm, most of the residents were indoors as the police and some of the residents exchanged fire.
On Wednesday morning, the situation was calm, but rocks, burnt tyres and debris still littered the streets, said Joburg metro police department spokesman Superintendent Wayne Minnaar.
He cautioned motorists to drive with caution.