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Umlazi uprising faces bullets, arrests

Fatima Asmal-Motala

Tension is mounting southwest of Durban in Umlazi's ward 88, where activists say the police are randomly arresting people and firing live ammunition.

Community activist Bheki Buthelezi says the residents are concerned about poor service delivery, not politics. (Rogan Ward)

Their right to protest has been violated, they say.

“We are not free in Umlazi. The police are arresting and shooting people with real bullets. People are in hospital as we speak,” a 34-year-old woman, who belongs to the ward 88 crisis committee, told the Mail & Guardian.

The woman said she did not want to be named because she feared for her life. “The police here are working with the councillors,” she said.

“We are protesting because we wanted the councillor to step down because she doesn’t deliver. She doesn’t respect us. Even if we call her, she doesn’t come to meet us.”

Bheki Buthelezi of the Unemployed People’s Movement, who is also a member of the ward 88 crisis committee, was one of 19 people arrested last weekend on charges of intimidation or public violence.

“We were going to meet on Saturday afternoon to formalise a programme to occupy the councillor’s office. But on Saturday morning the police arrested me without having a case against me,” he said.

Struck off the roll

“I was later released on R500 bail and told to appear in the magistrate’s court, but there was no magistrate there. I was told my case had been struck off the roll because there was no evidence against me and that the bail would be refunded.”

Buthelezi said service delivery protests in the area dated back to August last year.

“On June 8 we marched, demanding that the councillor, Nomzamo Mkhize, step down because she works with only certain people belonging to her camp. We handed a memorandum over to the manager of the office of the speaker in the eThekwini municipality and we gave it seven days to respond.”

He said that when they did not receive a response, community members gathered again and decided to occupy the councillor’s office.

“There were youth who were pushing to burn tyres on the street, but we said this was not the answer; we needed to find an alternative by formulating our own programme to see our ward being developed.”

Resolution

Buthelezi said the police were called in when the protesters arrived at Mkhize’s office on Wednesday afternoon.

“We then moved back to the ground where we usually meet. We heard that some people wanted to burn her office, but we took a resolution not to do so.

“About 3500 of us gathered to go to protect the office. On our way there we encountered the police, who began to shoot at people randomly. One person was shot in the leg and taken to hospital. Others were shot in their homes.

“We submitted our demands directly to the people who are supposed to respond to us, but they did not do so. They used the police to shoot people and arrest them.” 

Buthelezi, who is a member of the Black Consciousness Party (BCP), insisted that the protests were not politically motivated.

“We are doing this as residents, not political parties. There are four political parties in the ward — the ANC, BCP, National Freedom Party and Inkatha Freedom Party  — and we have all come together to raise issues of unemployment, housing, the landless and informal settlements.”

Issues of tenders

However, Mkhize disagreed with Buthelezi’s comments.

“I talk to every person in my ward. Some of these protesters are interested in issues of tenders, others are politically motivated,” the councillor said.

“There is service delivery in this area, but there are nominees who did not become councillors, so this is politically motivated.” 

She said that she had been forced to ask the police to intervene. “What can I say when they march at night, coming towards my home? I had no choice.”

Mkhize said she would meet the protesters soon. “We will talk to the very same people who are toyi-toying and ask them what the problem is.

“When they marched, they gave their memorandum to the office of the speaker, which, to date, has not passed it on to me, so I don’t know what’s in it.”

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