Building set alight in West Rand protest

Published Oct 24, 2013


Johannesburg - The streets and a building in Bekkersdal near Westonaria were burning on Wednesday night. This was after a volatile, intense stand-off between protesting residents and police lasting more than two hours.

It all began around 4pm. By 5pm, hundreds of residents were throwing rocks at two police armoured Nyalas at the scene.

They burnt tyres at the end of the street near the taxi rank.

Children were vandalising a gymnasium hall and stealing copper cables. Other children had made a stone coffin for the ward councillor on the instruction of older residents.

Police officers, who were outnumbered, used the gymnasium hall as a base, while residents stood defiant on a hill on the opposite side of the hall.

They kept running down the hill in droves to attack the police, and retreating when rubber bullets were fired at them.

Earlier, a teenage boy was shot in the township, while residents turned on each other amid allegations of ward councillors promoting violence.

Witnesses described, and SABC footage appeared to show, a man coming out of a shop on Wednesday morning, pointing a gun and shouting “Get back, get back!”

In the footage, the man walks to the edge of his property and fires shots.

A 14-year-old boy was hit in a leg. Staff at the local clinic confirmed treating him.

Police spokeswoman Constable Elsie Tshonte said the shopkeeper was facing only charges of illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition as no one had come forward to lay a charge about the shooting.

The protests began three weeks ago when residents blockaded roads and attacked police over poor service delivery and alleged maladministration.

They have been calling for ward councillors and the executive mayor of the Westonaria local municipality, Nonkoliso Tundzi, to resign.

At 6pm on Wednesday, six Nyalas patrolled the taxi rank area.

Police fired teargas to disperse the crowd, but their efforts were futile.

Fifteen minutes later, the roof of the gymnasium hall, which police had already vacated, was burning, after a protester had thrown a petrol bomb onto it.

Later in the night, the police had brought the fire at the hall under control.

Burning tyres were placed on almost all the streets in Bekkersdal.

At 8pm, police in Nyalas patrolled the township, firing rubber bullets to disperse small pockets of people still standing in the streets.

Earlier in the day, angry residents had wanted to burn councillor Thabani Mngomezulu’s house in Silver City over their anger at non-delivery of services.

More than 40 people marched to his house, wielding pangas and spears.

“There is no evidence that the mayor is corrupt,” Mngomezulu said.

“People must not vandalise state property because they say a mayor is corrupt. This violence won’t last forever…

“People must stop this tribalistic and xenophobic attitude,” he said in reference to foreigners who had been forced to abandon their shops.

The situation remained tense.

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The Star

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