/ 13 September 2011

Lenasia residents take up Thembelihle’s cause

Lenasia Residents Take Up Thembelihle's Cause

The embattled residents of the Thembelihle informal settlement, south of Johannesburg, have decided to suspend their protest action and heed Gauteng provincial minister Humphrey Mmemezi’s call for further negotiations.

“We will meet him [on Wednesday] and if we don’t get a positive outcome, we are going back to the street,”said Thembelihle Crisis Committee spokesperson, Bhayiza Miya.

Mmemezi’s spokesperson, Motsamai Motlhaolwa, could not be reached to comment about the meeting.

Protesters in the township of Thembelihle near Lenasia took to the streets this week in an increasingly violent display of residents’ grievances over inadequate housing and access to water.

Miya said Thembelihle residents had since forged a working relationship with members of the Indian community from neighbouring Lenasia who are in favour of negotiating with the government rather than continuing the protests, which have not yield any positive results.

Mmemezi’s address to the residents last week suggested a bleak future for the Thembelihle settlement, which has stood for over 20 years. He told them that the government could not build houses in the land because it is a dolomitic area, a statement that angered the residents even further.

‘Conduct a proper study’
Miya said although the residents were prepared to negotiate, they wanted a proper study completed that must show why the government cannot rehabilitate the land for housing, before they can agree to relocation.

Khalil Ebrahim, one of the Lenasia residents who has decided to join forces with the Thembelihle residents, said it was important to stand by one’s neighbours.

“We have a working relationship [with Thembelihle] in a sense that we want people to understand — we are all South Africans. We have one voice,” he said.

On the first day of protest, parts of Lenasia were left in the dark after the protesting residents burnt down three substations supplying power to their neighbours but Ebrahim said they were more concerned with the plight of the people of Thembelihle than the lights being off. “We know what it is like to live without electricity.”

He said the only way forward is negotiation with government because the violence had not achieved anything.

“We need true leadership, people who can stand their ground and do what’s right for the community,” said Ebrahim.

Primary demands
When the residents started the protest action, their main demands were for electricity, proper housing, roads and better sanitation.

Violence broke out on the first day: residents hurled stones at police and vehicles passing by on the Klipspruit Valley Road, and barricaded entrances to the squatter camp with rocks and burning tyres.

Reports emerged of a 15-year-old girl who was trampled by protesters fleeing the police, and an 11-year-old boy who was hit by a stray rubber bullet. On the third day, residents accused the police of brutality, after a resident, Lloyd Baloyi, was allegedly shot by police while in his shack.

Other allegations included police shooting residents with rubber bullets and teargas while they were inside the settlement, and some residents claimed the police had physically pulled them from shacks.

Baloyi was admitted at the Chris Hani Baragwaneth Hospital on September 7 and discharged at the weekend. His brother Shadrack said this week that Baloyi still could not walk and an attempt to open a case with the police was unsuccessful.

“They said in order to open a case he [Lloyd Baloyi] must accompany me.”

Lawyering up
Miya said residents had around 30 cases to open against the police, and they were meeting their lawyers on Friday.

However, Lenasia police again dismissed reports of police violence.

“That’s mere speculation. There are also speculations that shots were fired from the residents’ side. I think those are to be subjected to investigations,” said Lenasia station commander, Ngwako Masao.

“You see what we have to put across there is that we cannot allow, as the police, a situation where some individuals take advantage of service delivery protests and see it as an opportunity to commit crime.”