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Bekkersdal protests on hold as government steps up

Protest action in Bekkersdal near Westonaria has been put on hold to allow government time to investigate the residents' grievances, community leaders said on Sunday.

"We are suspending the protests and allowing schooling to continue and for the situation to return to normal in Bekkersdal," community leader Thabang Wesi told the South African Press Association.

Residents demanded the removal of their mayor, and the township has since been plagued by violent protests that have seen government properties being vandalised and pupils being taken out of schools.

On Sunday, roads were barricaded with rocks and burning tree stumps.

Wesi said on Sunday community leaders met with members of the tripartite alliance and reached an agreement to allow investigations launched by the Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs Minister Lechesa Tsenoli.

"The investigations will start tomorrow [Monday] and on November 3 we will be meeting the minister and the MEC of Human Settlements and Local Government in Gauteng Ntombi Mekgwe," he said.

It was agreed that a national and provincial task team would with immediate effect develop and formulate service delivery interventions.

Wesi said residents would be given feedback on Monday regarding the interactions that took place on Sunday, and what the future held for the disgruntled township.

SABC news reported ANC Gauteng chair Paul Mashatile said on Sunday political leadership was interested in helping to resolve Bekkersdal's problems.

"We run Gauteng, so this is the process that everybody must follow. It's important that we bring peace to Bekkersdal," he said.

"And the important way is to engage with the community. They are engaging with us. They are agreeing with the process that was started."

Earlier on Sunday, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane vowed not to be intimidated by Bekkersdal's protesting residents. She said she would never run away from anything.

"I will not run away from our people when they have a crisis."

Mokonyane said government would not be held to ransom after she heard that residents were demanding the release of people who were arrested during the protests, threatening to otherwise continue looting in the area.

"They are undermining the rights of our people. We won't tolerate [this] undermining of the law," she said.

Mokonyane also slammed the residents for disrupting church services in the area, which was never seen even during the apartheid era.

"Churches were our sanctuaries," she said.

Westonaria mayor Nonkuliso Thunzi said the situation in Bekkersdal would not be resolved as long as residents stated that council should not come into the township.

Gauteng economic development MEC Mxolisi Hhayiya blasted residents for claiming they were not engaged.

He said the mayor had engaged with the residents but was exposed to abuse.

"I have met the group and they were dictating that leaders be removed. We want to talk to people who want to resolve this. It can be resolved," he said.

Police on alert
Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said on Sunday police had intensified their deployment in Bekkersdal to maintain law and order.

"Although the spate of violence has decreased, police are remaining on alert and will take any necessary steps to maintain peace," he said.

"Police also remains confident that service delivery issues will be resolved and the criminal elements who have taken advantage of the situation will be brought to book."

He said since the protests began, a group of 59 people appeared in the Westonaria Magistrate's Court after being arrested for various charges including attempted murder, burglary, theft, suspected possession of stolen goods, and public violence.

The group's case had been postponed to October 31 and December 2 respectively.

Seven other people arrested on Thursday for public violence were expected to appear in the same court on Monday.

'More people may be arrested'
"More people may be arrested and added to the group as police are still continuing to investigate charges related [to] protests," he said.

In the meanwhile, community members behind the violence and looting had been identified and police would make sure they were arrested in order for the law to take its course.

Earlier, Dlamini said a group prevented cleaning trucks from entering the township.

The township was quite late on Sunday evening but there was still a heavy police presence in the area. – Sapa

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