File photo: REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

Potchefstroom - The Democratic Alliance in North West on Saturday condemned the looting of buildings and violence during protests this week, but will continue its High Court action to oppose the Tlokwe local municipality merger with the Ventersdorp local municipality.

“The vandalism and arson of the Venterdorp local municipal buildings last night [on Friday] is a horrible result of the ANC government's neglect and contempt for residents' views, which are opposed to the merger of Tlokwe municipality and Ventersdorp municipality,” DA spokeswoman Juanita Terblanche said in a statement.

This follows the burning of a municipal building in Ventersdorp and the blocking of roads with burning tyres and other objects by protesters opposing the merger.

Terblanche said the government and the Demarcation Board had long given up listening to Potchefstroom and Ventersdorp residents, who clearly feared the amalgamation, but had no say in this critical decision.

Participatory democracy and the values of people-centred government had been destroyed by the ANC in the North West, she said. “The DA is concerned that the Tlokwe municipality/ Ventersdorp merger shows signs of mimicking the Khutsong and Matateile cross-border protests, where the government only really listened to grievances after resident had to turn violent to stop it. Today the ANC forces communities to turn violent before government listens.

“The ANC cannot shift the blame for the Ventersdorp violence to anyone but themselves. The DA is opposing this merger in the High Court, but never through violence on the streets,” Terblanche said.

The ANC's disregard for community voices and reckless comments by ANC officials had sparked the turmoil.

The violence started after comments by ANC provincial secretary Dakota Legoete, who during a radio debate with the DA on Thursday evening about the amalgamation, said “people can march, do whatever they want to; it will not bring them anything, it will not change the ANC's viewpoint”.

“These words were the last straw for an ignored community and they sparked protests and disruptions currently ongoing in Ikageng, Potchefstroom, and Ventersdorp,” she said.

In a “fair society” the DA government would have taken the community views as paramount and would have given a fair hearing to the community most affected.

“We sympathise with residents who are ignored by the ANC who wants to push the merger through before the 2016 elections. They know their days as the governing party in the Tlokwe municipality are numbered.”

It is not in the nature of the DA to participate in destructive protests and the party would continue to fight the amalgamation in court. The DA would bring this case before the High Court in Pretoria on September 29, Terblanche said.

Provincial community safety and transport management MEC Gaoage Molapisi has strongly condemned the violent action.

Molapisi said in a statement destroying public and private property was criminal and those found responsible would be jailed.

“South Africa is a democratic country where people have rights, and these rights are enshrined in the Constitution. People have the right to gather and march, but their rights are not above any other rights.”

There was no right in the Constitution that granted anyone permission to burn and destroy essential amenities, such as schools, libraries, police stations, or government buildings.

“They cannot pick and chose which rights suite them. If you transgress the Constitution you must face the full might of the law,” said Molapisi.

He said when the protesters had applied for the march, they had said it was going to be a peaceful march and the leaders would control the march, assisted by marshals, and “more often that does not become the case”.

What happened in Potchefstroom and Ventersdorp was a case in point.

“As government we are not going to fold our arms and say it is happening. We are going to apply the law and police must do their work without exception and those responsible must be arrested and prosecuted,” he said.

Many times the suspects were granted free bail or released on warning and this did not deter them from repeating the crime.

“All these acts of hooliganism and crime must be investigated; our courts must set an example. Those who have burned the municipal building in Ventersdorp are in serious trouble as they should be charged with arson and the charge for arson is a serious one.

“Communities and councillors must assist the police with giving information because they know and have seen the perpetrators. We must all condemn these barbaric acts because they derail progress and development. I want to see people arrested and these must not take long,” Molapisi said.

He further appealed to the general public not to engage in unlawful acts.

Members of the public experiencing any act of criminality were advised to contact the department’s call centre on 0800-204-992.

ANA