Durban - Tourism at Port St.Johns took a hard knock this week when protest action brought the coastal town to a standstill. So intense were the protests that businesses, schools and clinics closed their doors in fear of threats apparently made by the Sajonisi Woods Forum.
Route R61 between Mthatha and Port St. Johns and those leading to Lusikisiki were affected when members from the forum, blockade the towns entry and exit points.
They were calling for the removal of Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo, the mayor of Port St. Johns Local Municipality, Xolile Moni, the ANC Chief Whip, and Gcina Tshotho, the Head of Engineering and Planning Services at the municipality.
Eastern Cape police spokesperson, warrant officer Majola Mkohli, said the homes of both Mlombile-Cingo and Moni were torched last week and Moni’s nephew had been shot.
“On Thursday we started to remove trucks that were used in the blockade,” said Mkohli.
Several business owners and employees in the area said they were caught in the middle of the tension between the forum and the municipality.
Gerald John Blom, owner of Jungle Monkey Backpackers, said his establishment was shut down by members of the forum on Thursday.
“They came and fetched my staff from the premises and took them out to make sure that they couldn’t work at 11am on Thursday. I run a bar, restaurant, and accommodation. Economically, this is a disaster,” said Blom.
Sonia Knoesen, manager of Claud’s Rest BnB, said the shutdown has caused huge financial losses.
“We can’t live like this. Clients that stayed here for two years had to sneak out and people couldn’t get to their accommodation. We are losing clients. I know what they (the forum) are fighting for – why should we have outsiders run our town when we have locals,” said Knoesen.
An employee at a BnB establishment, who requested anonymity, said the loss in tourism has been huge.
“Cancellations are coming in for our December bookings, no one wants to be trapped in this town while on holiday. Cancelled bookings for this week cost us over R30 000 for two days. And that is just for one BnB. This town relies on tourism to survive. No tourists want to come here after this. On Friday morning we were able to enter town, but strikers did bring down trees on the roads and motorists were advised to be cautious,” she said.
A long-term guest from Durban at one of the accommodation establishments, who asked not to be named, said he was unable to work due to the shutdown.
“I lost two days pay because of the shutdown. I get paid per hour and this caused me to lose so many hours of pay. I tried to go to work but I could not pass the roadway. I must remain here for work but now I face a reduced salary. Vendors could not make money to buy food for supper and the economy of the town was affected. This has been like another lockdown,” he said.
Dries van de Merwe, head of the Port St. Johns Ratepayers Association, said the residents were living in fear.
“We are afraid that things will run into street battles, and I am afraid of further damage to the town,” said van de Merwe.