Johannesburg - There was a heavy police presence in Ekangala township, near Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria, on Wednesday as police tried to maintain order in the protest-hit area.

More than 10 police vehicles blocked the road leading into the township to stop residents going to the main road.

Residents have been protesting since Thursday about the high price of electricity. Earlier, police said several buildings had been set alight, including a clinic.

“A clinic, house and a hall were burnt down in Rethabiseng,” spokesman Johannes Japhta said.

The protests had spread to nearby townships. A total of seven buildings had been torched during protests in the area. Two people were arrested in Rethabiseng on Wednesday and would be charged with public violence and illegal public gathering. Several people were arrested after a library and a house were set alight around 3am on Tuesday. No one was injured and the three people who were in the house at the time escaped when the fire started.

Japhta said it was not known if the home owner worked for the Tshwane municipality, but he had previously been a community policing forum member.

Acting Gauteng police commissioner Lt-Gen Lesetja Mothiba said 39 people would appear in the Bronkhorstspruit Magistrate's Court on Wednesday in connection with the violent protests.

“We condemn the community actions that we've seen the last few days (which) are pure criminality in the form of vandalism,” he said.

Police have dealt with 569 protests in the past three months, of which 122 were violent.

Mothiba said the protests had stretched police resources to the limit. Last week, violent service delivery protests erupted in the area. Protesters torched the Zithobeni satellite police station and municipal offices.

In a statement on Tuesday, the City of Tshwane said residents of Bronkhorstspruit, Rethabiseng and Zithobeni in Region Seven had been protesting because they were unable to buy pre-paid electricity.

Spokesman Blessing Manale said that before Region Seven merged with the city it used a prepaid electricity system called Conolog, which crashed last Monday.

“The city has, since the system crashed, called in technicians for repairs but has been advised that the system was irreparable,” he said.

“The region has now intensified its roll-out of the migration programme to transfer residents from the old Conolog system to the Supreme system and calls upon all residents from Bronkhorstspruit, Zithobeni and Rethabiseng to come and register for the new system.”

He said the city condemned the vandalism and destruction of property and called for calm in the area. - Sapa