Pretoria - Eersterust protesters on Thursday blocked Hans Coverdale Road after claiming a 60-year-old man died of tear gas inhalation during the service delivery protests that rocked the area on Wednesday. In the early morning calm had been restored following the violent protest of the day before.
But from about noon clusters of groups began mobilising again, with the general consensus being that the police had to pay for killing the man. They started collecting tyres and writing placards, accusing police of killing Arthur Moses. Moses’s landlord, Brendan Jacobs, told the Pretoria News that at around 3pm on Wednesday they were sitting under a tree in the backyard while the protests were going on.
Three canisters of tear gas fired by police landed near his home, and Moses inhaled some of it, he said. “During the commotion of police dispersing the crowds, some protesters ran into my yard to take cover. Police must have fired the tear gas near the yard, that is when the old man inhaled the teargas,” he said on Thursday. According to Jacobs, Moses immediately grabbed his chest and ran for cover into his corrugated iron shack.
“He was coughing profusely and grabbing his chest with both hands. His eyes were also watering,” he said. Moses asked for an asthma pump, which the asthmatic Jacobs rushed to fetch from his house. After a couple of sprays Moses said he felt better but his chest was still tight. “After the commotion settled we walked around the yard to get some fresh air. He wasn’t looking good, and asked to lie down to sleep off the pain.”
Jacobs said they wanted to take him to the hospital but there was too much chaos outside. According to Moses’s caregiver, Venessa Phala, he was a healthy man who fixed electronics around the community. “The only thing Arthur suffered from was arthritis,” she said.
After Moses came back from taking a walk around the yard for fresh air, he asked for a cup of tea, sipped on it and lay down, asking Phala to rub his chest, which she did with a warm cloth. After a few minutes, Phala said, his body stopped moving. She called Jacobs for help, who then called his girlfriend, who was at work at a nearby clinic. “She quickly walked here, felt his pulse and confirmed that he was dead,” Jacobs said.
A resident remonstrates as police officers fire rubber bullets and stun grenades. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
Moses’s mother, Fatima Bhera, who lives a street away from where he was renting, was overly emotional on Thursday. She sat with Moses’s son Patrick, fighting back tears. “I’m numb, lost for words and tired. What happened to my son is absolutely unacceptable and terrible."
She said she did not want to point fingers until the post-mortem results were out, but emphasised that her son had been in good health and that his sudden death was a huge concern. His dejected son Patrick said he and his three siblings were going to miss their dad’s humble personality, and how he always fixed their electronics.
On Wednesday Eersterust was on “lockdown” as residents, upset with what they said was slow service delivery, barricaded roads to vent their anger over long-standing grievances. These included constant electricity cut-offs, high rates and taxes, water restrictions and a flawed RDP allocation process.
Hundreds of residents held protests from 5am, that saw all entrances on Stormvoël Road blocked, stones hurled and rubber bullets fired by police. The residents called for mayor Solly Msimanga to come and address them. At a media briefing on Thursday, Msimanga said the City had fixed the substation in the Eersterust/Waltloo area but a week later it was again vandalised “...which took us back to this situation we are faced with now."
On the issue of housing, Msimanga said one of the biggest challenges the City faced was that some residents in Eersterust did not want to move out of the area. Eersterust had limited space for housing development. “Some residents say they were born there and want to die there." Msimanga promised to meet the Eersterust leadership on June 29 to discuss the current impasse.