Pietermaritzburg – Msunduzi Mayor Themba Njilo has condemned the spate of protests that have occurred in Pietermaritzburg over the past days, warning that destruction of public property was derailing plans to bring about development in all parts of KwaZulu-Natal’s capital city.
His comments came in the wake of protests in different parts of the city, mainly in communities that live in informal settlements and low cost housing, where residents have taken to the streets demanding among other things RDP houses, better roads, water and electricity.
It all started last week just two days after the elections when angry residents from Tamboville took to the streets and blocked traffic with burning tyres and other objects. The protesters said they had been waiting since 1997 for houses to be delivered and had grown impatient.
On Monday, residents of France Township also blocked key entry points, including the R56 which connects the KZN capital with Richmond, and demanded that they receive answers from Njilo and senior officials. The blockade resulted in traffic build-up in many parts of the city, with people arriving late for work.
The protests in France continued until Tuesday when the mayor briefly met residents and protesters.
Things got more intense on Tuesday evening when East Street Hostel dwellers armed with sticks and other objects marched to city hall.
The group, who had blocked many parts of East Street with burning tyres, demanded that power supply be restored to the hostel and only left after the security officials told them that the mayor and senior managers were not around.
A businessman operating on East street spoke of the chaos he witnessed, saying: “They (protesters) started shortly before my closing time. I had to close early, I lost about R3000 in trade.
“It was chaotic, they started fired and I heard a few gun shots. After those gunshots the taxi’s operating here disappeared and I believe some of the shops that close late were looted.
“The chaos went on through the night and when I arrived this morning the protest was still on and huge fire was burning, I normally open my business by 8 but iwas only able to open by 10,” he said.
Speaking after the protests on Wednesday, Njilo called for aggrieved residents to use the correct channels to lodge their grievances.
“There are proper channels that should be used when people are not satisfied with the services that are provided to them. The use of violence and the destruction of property should not be allowed because it means money meant for services gets used to repair damaged property,” said the mayor.
Meanwhile, the ANC leadership in the Moses Mabhida region said they were closely monitoring the violent protests and believed that the concerns raised by residents were genuine as they had encountered them during the election campaign.
Regional Task Team Co-ordinator Mandla Zondi said it was important for the municipality to respond when concerns were raised by locals. “We were mindful of the fact that some communities were unhappy even during the campaign, people were expressing unhappiness about the levels of service they were getting. We hope that the municipality can address this,” said Zondi.
He added that he had spoken to Njilo about the situation and was confident that the situation would be brought under control.
Additional reporting by ANA