Protesters ‘holding town hostage’
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Kimberley - Raw sewage is running down the streets of Barkly West and into the Vaal River because the town is being held hostage by angry protesters, who are preventing municipal workers from delivering services to the area.
Ongoing protests by a group of residents, who are calling for the removal of the Dikgatlong Municipal Manager, the mayor and various councillors, have turned the town into a war zone, with rocks, poles and remnants of burnt tyres obstructing several streets, while houses have been petrol bombed and burnt to the ground since the protests started in October.
Refuse and sewage throughout the entire town have not been collected for the past five weeks with protesters intimidating municipal workers. The lack of basic service delivery has now raised fears of a possible cholera outbreak.
Residents and business owners in Barkly West have bemoaned the lack of service delivery and said that piles of rubbish and raw sewage running into the streets and, at various points into the Vaal River, was not only bad for business but also created a potential health disaster.
“We are losing customers, who can not be expected to negotiate raw sewage to get to our business premises,” one guest house owner said.
A bottle store owner said he had to remove his own refuse as the piles of garbage were causing a health risk.
About 60 percent of all residential and commercial properties in Barkly West are serviced by “honey suckers”, vehicles that suck raw sewage directly from septic tanks. But these tanks have not been cleared for five weeks and are now overflowing.
Dikgatlong municipal manager Harold Robertson on Monday described the current situation as having changed from “politically orientated to criminally motivated”.
“Barkly West is heading for absolute chaos, as criminals, posing as protesters, are holding the entire town hostage. We can’t guarantee the safety of our workers, who have rocks thrown at them, are assaulted or are threatened with death by the handful of protesters if they are seen doing their jobs. Despite the fact that overflowing sewage and refuse are filling our streets and flowing into the river, we can not risk the lives of our workers by exposing them to these protesters, who, judging by the houses that have been burnt down already, are not making idle threats,” Robertson said.
He added that a potential cholera outbreak could also not be ignored.
“We call on the police to intensify their efforts and arrest the people responsible before the situation escalates into something even more serious – like a cholera outbreak. For now we will be deploying private contractors to remove sewage and refuse at areas most seriously affected, like the prison and hospital,” he said.
He added that one of the municipality’s two refuse removal trucks had been set alight by the protesters and would result in a serious backlog when services are restored.
A 28-year-old woman appeared in the Barkly West Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of arson and malicious damage to property following the incident.
Belinah Bouw had her case remanded to next year, after she was arrested on Friday.
Members of the “concerned group of residents”, of which Bouw is a member, however, distanced themselves from the acts of violence that have marked the ongoing protests.
“We are not responsible for the refuse truck being destroyed or any of the houses that were burnt down. These are the doings of ‘ANC gangsters’ – who are hoping to place the blame on us and cheapen our cause.
“We have not resorted to violence during any of our protest actions and believe in resolving the issues in this municipality in a peaceful manner. We are only asking for the removal of corrupt senior officials who are running our municipality into the ground,” members of the group said after Bouw’s court appearance.
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