Khutsong explodes over border decision

Word from Cape Town that Parliament had rubber-stamped a Bill that put an end to cross-border municipalities — meaning Merafong would be incorporated into North West — triggered violent protests in Khutsong on Wednesday.

Police shot at protesters using rubber bullets as their armoured vehicles came under a hail of stones and bottles throughout the afternoon.

By evening, a police officer had been badly burnt in the face during a petrol-bomb attack and five houses in the township outside Carletonville had been torched, according to Gauteng police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mary Martins-Engelbrecht.

”One was that of a South African National Defence Force member; the others belonged to councillors,” she said.

Four other police officers were injured, one by a stone.

Khutsong residents Nomsa Sangxu and Masiu Lawrence suffered eye injuries.

South African Broadcasting Corporation radio news reported that a councillor and his wife were rescued by helicopter. Police could only confirm that a councillor had been rescued while his house was under attack.

Fifty-seven protesters were arrested for public violence, according to police.

Martins-Engelbrecht said that by the evening the situation was under control, but police would maintain their strong presence overnight.

Eight police vehicles were damaged in the day’s protests.

‘We will resist’

After announcing Parliament’s decision to the packed grandstand, South African Communist Party organiser Nkosi Mphendule managed only to get a final word in over the loudspeaker that the matter would go to the Constitutional Court.

Mamela [listen] comrades,” he repeated as the grandstand began to empty.

”We will resist until we make sure that the dirty decision is reversed. We are not going into exile. We are going to teach South Africa and the world a lesson,” said Mphendule, adding that the matter would now go to the Constitutional Court.

”We are ready to tell the world and South Africa that the voice of the people of Merafong will not depend on a few individuals.”

Minutes later, the protest leadership said they did not condone the stoning of a councillor’s house beside the stadium. However, they said they did not want the protest to lose momentum.

They also lashed out at police, saying that shortly after stone-throwing and the burning of tyres had started, they had not needed to charge an armoured car across the field in the stadium towards protesters at high speed.

By the time the crowds had left the stadium and staged a march through the township, police had fired rubber bullets inside the stadium.

During one such exchange, a police officer was injured as protest leaders started negotiating with police.

SACP leaders, including Paul Ncwane, were hit by rubber bullets.

‘Councillors do not deliver’

Later in the afternoon, a house had been set alight. Onlookers said it belonged to councillor Elias Legote. Outside the burning home, 21-year-old Lebogang Ntsoelengoe said Legote deserved to have his home torched.

”The councillors live on fat salaries and they do not deliver,” she said, adding that she would not vote in the coming local government elections.

Neighbours who salvaged furniture would not say what had happened other than that they had been scared.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly approved legislation abolishing cross-boundary municipalities — a move affecting 17 municipalities including the contentious areas of Merafong (Gauteng to North West), Matatiele (KwaZulu-Natal to Eastern Cape), Bushbuckridge (Mpumalanga and Limpopo), and Khalagadi (North West to Northern Cape).

It was made law on Wednesday, when Khutsong residents were gathered at the stadium, many of them having stayed there for a night-long vigil.

In their attempts to stay part of Gauteng, Khutsong residents have targeted councillors’ homes, looted shops, stoned police, handed over memoranda and presented their case to provincial legislatures in the past two months.

They believe they will receive better services from the wealthier Gauteng — to which they have financially contributed.

ANC condemns violence

Meanwhile, the African National Congress, vilified during the protests, condemned ”the senseless burning of public buildings and private property by some unruly individuals in Merafong”.

”Such behaviour threatens to obscure the real issues faced by the people of Merafong,” said spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama.

”While the ANC understands the concerns of some people regarding the incorporation of the area into the North West, this can never be a justification for such criminal behaviour.”

The ruling party said it is confident that all spheres of government will continue to work together to ensure service delivery in the area is not compromised.

Shortly before being shot by a rubber bullet, elderly, grey-haired Ncwane — who called himself ”an ANC veteran” — said he was sick about what was happening in the party.

”My organisation had promised that the people shall govern, but it is individual people that govern.”

He compared the lack of taking the wishes of Khutsong residents to the way in which the apartheid regime had ruled.

”It’s like what happened with forced removals,” he said.

On Wednesday night, the provincial minister for community safety in Gauteng, Firoz Cachalia, appealed for calm in Khutsong.

”I understand that feelings are running high because this is an issue that the community believes is of crucial importance to its future, but violence and lawlessness are not the answer in a democracy and are not in the interest of the community,” said Cachalia.

”I also want to emphasise that police have a duty to protect life and property and to maintain public safety in Khutsong. I also hope that normality and peace will return to the community,” he added. — Sapa

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Duncan Guy
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