Cape Town 26-07 -12 -- Service Delivery protest on Strandfontein road , Grassy Park Picture Brenton Geach

While police used tear gas and rubber bullets on service delivery protesters on Monday, the DA and the ANC were firing salvoes in a war of words.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille reiterated accusations that the ANC was manipulating this year’s spate of protests for political advantage and to weaken the DA’s governance in the province.

“There is an element of ANC-driven political stoking of so-called service delivery protests, sometimes exploiting genuine community discontent about certain issues. This is partly done to detract from the fact of effective and successful service delivery, and to create a counter-narrative in the media and public mind,” she said.

But Western Cape ANC secretary Songezo Mjongile denied the ANC had anything to do with the often lawless and confrontational protests, and said the DA had to take responsibility.

“The DA is notorious for ignoring the poor as it does not care for them.” The political slanging came in the wake of violent protests in Nyanga on Monday morning. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters vandalising public property.

Nine people were arrested for public violence, said police. Six intersections were targeted on Lansdowne Road and Vanguard Drive, with the first signs of trouble picked up by security cameras shortly after 3am, said Richard Bosman, the City of Cape Town’s executive director for safety and security. On Lansdowne Road a Golden Arrow bus was stoned and torched, three passengers sustained minor injuries and the driver suffered lacerations to his face when a rock crashed through a window. Golden Arrow said the injured were recovering well.

Metrorail regional manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz said Monday’s protest caused delays on the central line. “Burning tyres and other objects were thrown on to the tracks below the Lansdowne bridge, causing delays of 30 minutes or more to trains between Mitchell’s Plain/Khayelitsha/Kapteinsklip and the city centre. Defective track circuits and points at Langa and Bonteheuwel caused minor delays.”

The situation had been too volatile to send Metrorail’s standby buses. At the Lansdowne/Duinefontein crossing protesters burnt down an electricity box, destroyed traffic lights and ruptured a water pipe. Vandalism was reported at the intersection of Vanguard Drive and Duinefontein, where protesters destroyed a new R600 000 traffic light control system.

The city has spent more than R2.6 million on repairing traffic lights damaged during protests in the past two weeks.

The threat to “ordinary citizens” was very worrying, said mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

Zille echoed Smith’s frustration.

“In those same situations where residents will be said to be protesting about inadequate infrastructure, they will be destroying and vandalising what infrastructure is in place. Where the complaint of residents will be that not enough money is spent on installing or upgrading infrastructure, the destruction wrought in many of these protests will mean that a portion of the capital expenditure will have to be spent on repairs that could otherwise have been spent on installing, upgrading and maintaining infrastructure.

“It truly is a case of people acting against their own interests,” said Zille.

What made things worse, Smith added, was that police had to divert resources from crime-ridden areas when protests flared up.

“Especially with relation to the flare-up of gang violence around the city in recent months. Sometimes metro police receive information that a delivery protest is going to happen, and they have no choice but to respond. These protests all too often turn violent, so police can’t ignore a tip-off.”

The city would have to consider a harder line, by getting more information on instigators so they can be arrested and more easily prosecuted.

This would reverse the approach by authorities in what Smith called the conciliatory period (2005-6) when the city would accommodate protesters, which resulted in opportunists thinking they could “jump the queue” for housing and basic services through violence.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said delivery problems were being used as a smokescreen for the ANC to undermine the DA before the 2014 elections.

“Among legitimate service delivery protests, amid communities searching for their voices, there are those protests used to advance political agendas, to destabilise the city,” she wrote in her newsletter last week.

But Mjongile insisted that genuine concerns drove people to such extremities.

“The onus is on De Lille to point out where there are grievances not based on genuine conditions.

“She is driven by her imagination and DA-invented conspiracy theories. She must rather concentrate on service delivery and better look after the poorest areas. She should deal with the cutting of funds for infrastructure to poor areas and constructing functional stormwater drainage where people annually are flooded.”

Lawrence Piper, head of the political studies department at UWC said yesterday that service delivery protests were likely to continue “regardless of whoever is running the city” because of high unemployment and other poverty-related matters.

- Cape Argus