This dog was left behind after two houses, belonging to a councillor and a former councillor, were burnt down by angry Chiawelo residents protesting against prepaid electricity meters and service delivery problems in the area. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
This dog was left behind after two houses, belonging to a councillor and a former councillor, were burnt down by angry Chiawelo residents protesting against prepaid electricity meters and service delivery problems in the area. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Chiawelo residents stick to demands

By Beauregard Tromp Time of article published Jul 7, 2011

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Tempers are flaring in Chiawelo, Soweto, with residents refusing to back down from demands for cheaper electricity.

Five people were arrested on Wednesday in connection with the stoning and arson attack on two councillors’ homes after residents blockaded some streets, including parts of the busy Chris Hani Road.

Late in the afternoon, nearly 200 residents marched to the Moroka police station to demand the release of the five.

A convoy of dignitaries, including dual Minister of Police and Local Government and Traditional Affairs Nathi Mthethwa, national police commissioner General Bheki Cele, provincial police commissioner General Mzwandile Petros and Joburg mayor Parks Tau were united in condemning the violent actions which saw police rescuing families from both houses after protesters set fire to the cars parked inside the respective garages.

As Chiawelo residents demonstrated outside the Moroka police station on Wednesday, police came out in force, some dressed in riot gear and others carrying shotguns. One policeman pleaded with protest leaders to form a delegation to talk to the police, berating them for coming en masse and protesting.

“We have realised that if you want to be heard in this country, you have to come as a crowd,” said one of the leaders.

Minutes later, a burly plain-clothed officer frog-marched the unidentified leader into the station, infuriating the crowd. The police refused to comment on this apparent detention.

“It’s not right. There are lots of poor people in Chiawelo and the electricity runs like a stopwatch. I have an eight-month-old baby, but we have no power,” said Emmanuel Michisi, who added he was reluctant to use the dangerous paraffin heater.

The crowd grudgingly dispersed in the late afternoon, with police and Joburg metro police vehicles saturating the area.

Earlier in the day, residents sparred verbally with Mthethwa and other politicians, complaining that only Chiawelo residents had to suffer high electricity prices, with many households paying more than R1 400 a month.

“People come here in their flashy cars and don’t have answers. The money for that one car can pay electricity for all the people of Chiawelo,” he said. The dignitaries arrived in an assortment of Audis, Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs.

The man refused to divulge his name, claiming to fear “the hooligan that is the ANC”.

Mthethwa denounced the attack on councillors’ homes, adding that e.tv was also culpable as it had been tipped off about the mob’s intentions.

Many other residents in the street where councillor Johannes Nemaungani’s house was torched seemed to share this sentiment, questioning why the government was not sending people who could solve the problem.

A number seemed to speculate that the dignitaries were publicity-seekers.

Four years ago, Chiawelo, allegedly with the consent of residents, became part of a pilot scheme to implement “split meters”, which are claimed to be tamper-proof. This has seen more than 90 percent of residents pay for their electricity, compared to their neighbours in the rest of Soweto, which has a poor payment record.

Recently, 115 of the 4 000 installed meters were vandalised, with Eskom technicians repeatedly being chased out of the area. Protesters blamed local councillors for allowing Eskom to install the “green boxes”.

Eskom spokeswoman Hillary Joffe said the complaints sounded like “winter grievance”, with electricity usage spiking. – The Star

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