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Violent Sasolburg demonstrations leave four dead

Free State police revised the death toll in the protests from two people to four on Thursday.

Differing death tolls have been reported by the media, but Colonel Motantsi Makhele insisted on Thursday that the official death toll was four. He said they all died in hospital on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, the police reported that two people had been killed – one of them at the Zamdela police station. The circumstances of the second death were not clear.

Initially police said a motorist shot dead a protester on Tuesday, but on Wednesday Makhele said a shop owner killed the protester.

Makhele denied saying this. He said two people had been shot dead – one by a shop owner and one by a motorist.

He then said another two protesters – and not one as initially reported – died after being shot at the Zamdela police station during a clash with protesters.

This has brought the official death toll to four – two protesters shot dead at the police station, one shot dead by a motorist, and one shot dead by a shop owner, said Makhele.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate said earlier this week it would investigate the shooting at the police station.

Makhele said police were awaiting post mortem reports and the outcome of their investigations to determine whether those killed died as a result of protest-related activity or unrelated, criminal acts.

Earlier, Constable Peter Kareli said a house was stoned and a construction site was set alight in apparent criminal attacks in Sasolburg on Wednesday night.

"It appeared to be criminally motivated: people taking an opportunity," he said. The motive for the attack on the house was not known, as it was not owned by a municipal official, he added.

"About 12 or 13 people started throwing stones at the house, then they ran away." No one was injured.

'Still tense'
On Thursday morning, residents began returning to work after recent protests over municipal demarcation.

"Everything is under control, although the situation is still tense," Kareli said.

He said that late on Wednesday afternoon residents, of their own volition, began to clean up the debris left on the streets after the protest.

"We are still going to have a lot of police officials in the area until we are convinced that the situation is calm," he said.

Residents started protesting on Sunday in opposition to the proposed merger, in 2016, of the Matsimaholo municipality in Sasolburg with the Ngwathe municipality, under which Parys falls.

Cooperative Governance and Public Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi announced on Tuesday that the merger would not immediately go ahead.

'I had to act'
Baloyi on Thursday told reporters he had to act when he found out there was a total collapse of order in Zamdela.

"I received information that the people of Zamdela [informal settlement] are protesting … and that there was a total collapse of order in the area, all on reasons associated with the differences on a matter that had to do with local government structures. … I had to act," he said.

A demarcation task team would monitor and ensure all processes related to the proposed changing of municipal boundaries in the country were above board, Baloyi said.

He insisted that he had a mandate to stop the proposed merger to ensure that all concerns related to it were dealt with, "until we are satisfied that the manner in which it is done is so transparent that it leaves no space for people to find faults in the process, or reduce that to a minimum".

Baloyi said part of the ministerial task team's job would be to ensure that all those affected by the proposed merger had a say in the matter.

On Thursday, residents of the area began returning to work. – Sapa

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