Three years ago protesters in Durban Deep, an old mining area west of Johannesburg, threw firebombs at the offices of a local company and burnt them down. The roads were closed with bricks and the police could not get in. It took a veterinarian to climb over the two-metre high fence to hose the fire down to stop it spreading to the animal shelter next door.
Now the Community Led Animal Welfare (Claw) animal shelter is facing the same problem, after half a week of having its water turned off. "We arrived on Monday morning and there wasn’t any water. We have had to send drivers to petrol stations to get water. Everything but the most important operations had to be stopped," said Dr Saskia Karius in between doing follow-up procedures on several dogs.
Claw is the only facility that looks after animals in the poor communities built around mining dumps west of Johannesburg. It has moved frequently, but is now housed inside an old brick building next to the yellow mine dump of Durban Deep mine. Its property was rented from the mine, but the area was then sold to Dino Properties, which is planning a mixed-income housing estate.
On Monday the community's water was cut off and Claw got a notice of eviction on January 31 2014. "To cut the water off is disgusting, without even telling us before it happened. I thought water was a human right," said Cora Bailey, one of Claw’s founders. "And to tell us we have to leave means we won't be able to do our work. They have said they would find us another place, so I just hope that materialises."
Their operations almost ground to a halt, but the sheer volume of animals and their importance in the local communities meant Claw had to work around the lack of water. Sheets and blankets – necessary to warm sick animals up – were taken home and cleaned there.
On Thursday morning the surrounding community had enough of not having water. At 4am they blocked off all the roads leading into the area and Main Reef Road, which carries heavy commuter traffic from Krugersdorp. Karius said she first heard on the radio that the road was blocked so she waited to come in – the team usually opens the shelter at 8am every day of the week. A minimum of 3 800 animals are looked after each month.
"But we then got a call saying Claw [staff] could come through, that the protesters would make space so we could get to the office. Nobody else would be allowed in," said Karius. To her surprise the water was back on – protesters had opened them again. An Eskom truck that came to turn the electricity off was also chased away.
The protest thawed in the morning as people went home to eat. In the baking midday heat they returned after a promise that the new property owner would explain what was happening. He did not arrive and his phone was not answered for comment when Mail & Guardian attempted to reach him. Faced with rows of police cars, the crowd stuck to muttered threats – that the development company's offices would be burnt if nobody came to address them.
Bailey was left not knowing whether the protesters would carry out their threat after the police had gone, or if things would die down. "What do I do now? We don't have enough cars so we'll have to send an appeal on Facebook and to everyone we know to help take the animals away. But I just don't know."