Angry Sakhile residents demand Zuma's attention

The acrid smell of burning tyres filled Sakhile township on Thursday as angry residents vowed violent protests until President Jacob Zuma heeds their service delivery complaints.

In the latest of several recent flare-ups in South Africa, thick black smoke hung over Sakhile’s rubbish-strewn streets three weeks after the area was transformed into a no-go area.

Frustrated residents want Zuma, who took office in May, to respond personally to their plight.

“President Zuma promised to rid government of corruption and lazy officials. Our council here is busy lining their pockets with the money meant for improving our living conditions,” said Sandile Mahlangu.

“We have ran out of patience, there is going to be no order here until Zuma visits the area and appoints an interim structure to run this municipality,” said Mahlangu, an unemployed young man.

In just five months, Zuma’s government has faced a wave of demonstrations in poor informal settlements where demands for access to water, electricity and housing have turned violent.

In Sakhile, residents have barricaded roads and set government buildings alight. Police responded by firing rubber bullets and making several arrests.

The flare-up of violence and a spate of recent strikes have turned up the pressure on the hugely popular Zuma who took power with strong support from unions and the poor, who now want to see some action.

“We will continue burning tyres, we have had enough.
Action is better than words,” said Mahlangu.

Amid reports of expensive ministerial car purchases, recessionary pressures and attacks from the left, Zuma remains billed as a leader who is in touch with South Africans facing massive inequality.

In August, he drew plaudits with a surprise visit to a protest-hit Mpumalanga township, followed by the launch of a toll-free complaints hotline which lodged more than 7 000 calls in just three hours.

“Zuma’s pro-poor election card raises the expectation of the people, now they want to see his face everytime there is a service delivery protest,” political analyst Prince Mashele told Agence France-Presse.

One Sakhile resident, Thembi Motha, said the riot was the result of years of neglect by the council and the ruling African National Congress which Nelson Mandela led to power in 1994 at the fall of apartheid.

“This protest was not supposed to turn out like this, but people are angry. We want Zuma to come and drive out these useless officials. They are the cause of all this,” he said.

The ANC has said that Zuma has been advised not to visit Sakhile despite his promise to visit trouble spots unannounced.

“It would be unfair for residents to demand that every time there are service delivery protests, then the president should come and address them,” the Times newspaper quoted a spokesperson as saying.

Several top politicians arrived in Standerton on Thursday to meet local councillors with of a crowd of residents waiting outside the building for an outcome amid a heavy police presence.

“We will not accept any decision which does not respect our demands,” said 56-year-old resident Margaret Sibiya.—AFP

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