The burnt-out shell of Pravin Gounder’s Mercedes Benz lies on the side of the road. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/Africa News Agency/ANA
The burnt-out shell of Pravin Gounder’s Mercedes Benz lies on the side of the road. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/Africa News Agency/ANA

Community activist ’not bitter’ after car set alight

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Oct 18, 2020

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Durban - When cornered by protesters from an informal dwelling in Reservoir Hills, near Durban, a community activist was forced to flee on foot and abandon his vehicle, which was then set alight and destroyed.

But local Community Police Forum chairperson Pravin Gounder is not “bitter” after his “harrowing experience” on Monday.

Notwithstanding the loss and trauma he suffered, the next day, Gounder helped broker a meeting at which municipal officials addressed shack-dwellers on the way forward.

Gounder was only disappointed that despite his efforts and those of other like-minded people in his community who had attempted to make a difference in the lives of residents, both formal and informal, they weren’t spared the protesters’ wrath.

The protesters' rage spilled on to the major entrances and exits from Reservoir Hills.

Damaged roadways and vehicles and looted shops were testimony to the violent protest action, with clashes with police continuing into the night.

Eight policemen were injured and six police vehicles were damaged during the uprising that resulted in the arrest of 25 people.

“I don’t harbour bitterness and I won’t abandon my community. I just want to find a resolution to the problems in Reservoir Hills, for the sake of good neighbourliness,” said Gounder.

His Mercedes-Benz was snared near the M19 highway on-ramp.

Gounder said he hadn’t realised the intensity of the protest due to misinformation that circulated on chat groups, and his vehicle was on the front line.

"The angry mob hurled missiles at my car and it was impossible for me to drive through. My only option was to abandon the car when the mob charged at me.”

Gounder said he had never been in a situation before where his life was in danger and he had limited options.

With assistance from security officers, Gounder, who has been living in the area since the 1990s, made his getaway.

“It has been super inconvenient without a car, but that’s a material thing. The focus should be on what led people to do that. If we can’t resolve it, there will be more such incidents.”

He suggested that “people who can make a difference in the life of the downtrodden” sit around a table.

“They were promised electricity, houses and a better life. When that was not delivered, this is the result.

“Fortunately, no lives were lost,” Gounder said.

Saving lives was also on Dr Kevin Naidoo’s mind that morning.

Naidoo, an active patroller with the CPF, was scheduled for another shift at King Edward VIII Hospital’s trauma unit, but the trouble in Reservoir Hills prevented his exit.

He had to make a decision.

“I either save lives in the hospital or prevent people from the area getting injured and landing in hospital.”

Naidoo said he was “frustrated but opted to join other patrollers and form barricades to turn the morning rush-hour traffic away from hot spots".

“I’m sure there must have been hundreds of people who also couldn’t get to work, including other doctors from the area.”

He said when police pushed protesters off the M19, they then charged at Naidoo and the others who were positioned on Quarry Road.

“That’s when the cars got damaged. There was no time to do anything. We just had to flee. It was a terrible scene,” Naidoo said.

The patrollers regrouped and formed another barricade near the Reservoir Hills Mall, which the mob also charged.

“It was disheartening and scary for us because we help both formal and informal residents.

“Why have we become the victims of their anger when things go wrong?

“Previously, we provided food and other assistance at the settlement. On Monday, we had to run from them,” said Naidoo, who has lived in Reservoir Hills for over 40 years.

Teddy Parbhu is another long-standing resident and owns the landmark Premier Centre building on Mountbatten Drive, which came under attack after protesters had looted the local Checkers bottle store, across the road.

All the shop fronts on the upper level of Parbhu’s building were damaged.

The local councilor’s office on the same level was trashed and hosed with water. Furniture and equipment from a salon was taken and some of it was burnt on the street, Parbhu said.

“The greatest damage is to the salon. I couldn’t understand that. Many people from the informal settlements are employed by businesses in my building.”

Parbhu said whenever unrest flared up, it had an adverse effect on business in the area, causing customers to stay away.

He was also disappointed with the response of police when the mob set upon his building.

“My family has advised me to sell the building.

“How does one survive in a society where violence is the order of the day?" he said.

Sunday Tribune

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