04/02/2014 SAPS members arrest a protesting Zithobeni resident minutes after they dispursed them with rubber bullets during their service delivery protest. Residents are demanding they be allowed to hand over a memorandum to Tshwane Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Pretoria -

A library and a house were set alight by protesters on Tuesday morning, and also another library and a community hall in Rethabiseng in the late afternoon as the service demonstration turned violent near Bronkhorstspruit.

Dozens of teenagers led a group in protest action in the restive Zithobeni township on Tuesday.

Police used rubber bullets, stun-grenades and tear gas to disperse hundreds of hostile protesters who tried to march to Bronkhorstspruit town.

It is believed the demonstrators wanted to burn down the town’s police station as well as other municipal offices, but they denied this, saying their aim was to continue voicing their grievances at the municipal offices.

Last week, protesters burnt down the satellite police station in Zithobeni, as well as part of the municipal offices, two municipal trucks and a tractor.

Residents say they are unhappy that they have been without electricity for weeks. It is alleged that they were not permitted to load their prepaid meters because of unpaid water bills.

On Tuesday, police spent hours trying to contain the protesters. Police formed a barrier between themselves and protesters, who placed children in the front as they pushed towards two Nyala vehicles and dozens of police officers.

Protesters gave police a 10-minute deadline for their commanding officer to come forward, and when that did not happen they decided to push forward in an attempt to get into the town.

Hundreds of demonstrators ran into the veld to try to bypass police, but were quickly dispersed by rubber bullets, and later a stun-grenade and tear gas.

This continued throughout the day as tyres were burnt, rocks were placed on the roads, and police were pelted with stones.

Police spokesman Johannes Jaftha said 31 people were arrested for public violence and would appear in court this week.

Meanwhile, a resident who spoke to the Pretoria News giving his name as Given Paul, said they were determined to march to town.

He vowed that the march to Bronkhorstspruit would continue and succeed on Wednesday.

“We are not going to stop until the mayor or the premier comes to address us and hears our pains and problems,” he said.

Blessing Manale, spokesman for the City of Tshwane, condemned the burning of the library and appealed to residents to exercise restraint and desist from acts of criminality.

The Zithobeni Community Library was built in 1986 and was extended, with grants from Gauteng, in 2009, at a cost of R500 000. Damage to the building is estimated at R1.5 million.

It was used by the community of Zithobeni, which includes two high schools and three primary schools.

Meanwhile, measures have been put in place to resolve the pre-paid electricity problem that resulted in the protests in Bronkhorstspruit, Rethabiseng and Zithobeni.

According to the City of Tshwane, residents in the erstwhile Kungwini Local Municipality (now Region 7) - following the merger with greater City of Tshwane in 2011 - were using a different pre-payment system, called Conolog, to buy electricity.

They continued to be served via the Conolog pre-payment system which crashed last Monday. The more advanced Supreme system was used elsewhere after the merger.

City spokesman Blessing Manale said: “The use of parallel systems was to afford residents ample time to migrate from Conolog to the city-wide Supreme system. The city has, since the system crashed, called in technicians for repairs, but has been advised that the system is irreparable.”

Manale said the region had since intensified its roll-out of the migration programme to transfer residents from Conolog to Supreme, and residents had been urged to register for the new system. The migration allowed customers who are not in arrears with their municipal accounts to be transferred to the Supreme system immediately and buy electricity, Manale said.

“Residents will be given until March 20” to transfer to the Supreme system. - Pretoria News