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Zamdela residents vow to fight on in Sasolburg

As the dust settled on the third day of violent protests in Sasolburg, residents of the Zamdela informal settlement vowed to return to the streets on Wednesday – in direct defiance of the government's attempts to placate them.

"Government has been undermining this community for too long. We are not listening to their empty promises and we will continue fighting until they listen to us," Thladiyane Kgodumo, an unemployed Zamdela resident told the Mail & Guardian.

Kgodumo spoke next to a smouldering tyre on a untarred road in the township, surrounded by a fellow resident egging him on.

"If we need to burn down this place, then it's fine," Kgodumo said with rage, to loud cheers from his fellow protesters.

His utterances came barely minutes after Cooperative Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi halted the government plan that raised their ire – a proposed municipal merger.

No merger
Residents of the area opposed the merger of the Matsimaholo municipality in Sasolburg with the Ngwathe municipality near Parys.

Since Sunday, Zamdela has been the scene of violent protests as residents took to the streets in the township and nearby city of Sasolburg to vent their anger.

They barricaded roads, burnt vehicles and government property and pelted bystanders and police with missiles ranging from rocks to burning tyres.

Police responded with equal vigour, firing rubber bullets and teargas at protesters in an attempt to restore order. The three-day standoff has left Zamdela's streets littered with broken glass, rocks and burnt-out vehicles and turned Sasolburg into a ghost town.

Shops and businesses closed their doors, schools suspended classes and the local Sasol plant has suspended operations indefinitely.

"Corrupt people occupy the council and corrupt people occupy the provincial government," Kgodumo said.

"They only look after themselves and don't care about Zamdela, so we don't care what they want. This is the only way they listen to us."

Nepotism and corruption
It is unclear why their fury suddenly erupted over the government's plan, which has been in the offing since the end of the general elections in 2011. But they claim Ngwathe is badly run by allies of Free State Premier Ace Magashule and is beset by nepotism and corruption.

"The Ngwathe municipality has run itself into the ground and we as residents of Matsimaholo do not want to be associated with those thieves," Sam Mthembu, another Zamdela resident, told the M&G.

Events turned deadly on Tuesday when a protester was killed after being caught in between demonstrators and the police. There were also unconfirmed reports of further deaths among Zamdela residents resulting from the violent clashes between them and police.

But police could not confirm these allegations.

Baloyi said he believed the moves to halt the proposed merger was more than enough reason for residents to cease their violent protests.

"People were under the impression that this [the merger] was going to happen. That it was already decided when it wasn't," Baloyi told journalists at KaraboFM – a community radio station in Sasolburg.

Viability of a merger
The minister said he would appoint a task team to investigate the viability of the proposed merger.

"At this point in time, there has been no merger of these two municipalities and there won't be any such merger until the task team has completed their work," he said.

Baloyi also said that while Zamdela residents were fully within their rights to voice their concerns against the proposed municipal merger, he was disappointed protests turned violent.

"Clearly there are elements of criminality to the Zamdela  protests, but we will deal with that once the task team has finished its work," he added.

Baloyi's assertions were bolstered by the ANC. "This cannot be allowed in a modern democracy such as ours, where individuals with ulterior motives take advantage of what should be a peaceful protest to be a fertile ground for criminality," ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.

But for Kgodumo and other Zamdela residents like Nelson Maduna, Baloyi's compromise and the ANC's calls for calm are not enough.

"Our leaders are afraid to see us and talk to us properly because they know they are wrong. So we are going to carry on like this until they listen," Maduna said. 

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Nickolaus Bauer
Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.

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