Calm has eventually returned to the community living in Isithebe following a week of violence and vandalism which started on Monday morning.
Businesses, a school and a clinic were held ransom as a group of disgruntled residents went on the rampage, burning factories and vehicles in protest against a candidate on the ward councillor list.
The police charged 122 people for public violence, arson and malicious damage to property and they are expected to be released tomorrow. This was among the demands of the community to prevent further flare-ups.
Mandeni municipality mayor, Sphesihle Zulu, confirmed that they had acceded to the community’s demands.
Zulu had been part of the ANC delegation which met with the community on Friday.
He said he had been assured by the delegation leading the protest that the instability was over.
“To quell the situation we had to meet the community half way, after they demanded that we release the suspects.
They could have been released a few days ago but they have misinformed the court by submitting wrong addresses.”
The community was enraged after the former Mandeni mayor Bheki Magwaza was returned by the ANC as a candidate in Ward 11.
Magwaza had vacated his seat after a private forensic company investigated him on allegations of corruption.
Magwaza said he was not allowed to talk to the media and referred questions to the ANC spokesman, Mdumiseni Ntuli.
Ntuli said they had not yet taken a decision to remove PR councillor Magwaza, but chances were high that he would be removed from the list.
“We can not compromise stability in the area. If the community insists that we remove him from the list, we will, although we still need his credentials and skills in the party. We cannot afford the same situation unfolding again. The economy in the area has collapsed in the past week.”
When asked about allegations of corruption againstMagwaza, he said nothing concrete had been found on the former mayor.
“We understand that he is not guilty of any crime. He has never appeared before a court of law.”
But, while the protests have stopped, business owners are counting the costs, uncertain if the damages would be covered by their insurance companies. Seven factories and several vehicles were damaged.
Darren Katzer, the owner of the Distinctive Clothing factory, said his factory was set alight for the second time on Thursday evening.
His factory had been petrol bombed.
“The damage is unbelievable and this could have negative implications for the 1 500 staff employed in our three branches around Isithebe. It is a big concern. In Isithebe for every female you employ you feed about nine to 10 people. 99 percent of my workers are women,” said Katzer.
He said his insurance company was in the process of quantifying the loss.
Mark Richardson, the executive director of Gomma Gomma factory, whose shop was set alight on Tuesday believes that the damages are in the millions.
“Businesses have been used as pawns by the community and politicians. It’s sad that the workers have lost a week’s wages. We have two branches. Fortunately the other one was not affected. The insurance company is still assessing the damage,” said Richardson.
Pupils were also affected and were forced to stay home for the week as KwaVusumuzi High closed its doors.
Qiniso Mbatha, a Grade 12 pupil, complained that missing his trial exam would have a negative impact on his future.
“We were supposed to write maths paper on Wednesday,” Mbatha said.
A patient who suffers from diabetes, Beauty Mthembu said although she understood some of the demands made by protesters she was against the intimidation of staff at the clinic and was angry that the clinic too had to close.
“Most of the patients were turned away, while the gates were hastily locked for fear of attack. Some patients were pregnant and others suffer from chronic illnesses. If this facility remains closed a lot of patients will suffer,” Mthembu said.
Political analyst Bheki Mngomezulu said there were many triggers which led to violent protest, but it was clear that the protesters had different objectives.
He referred to protestors torching factories as a group which may have been angry over low wages.
“We have a similar situation in other provinces where violent protest becomes the order of the day. Our courts should impose tougher sentences,” he said.