What started as a peaceful march by the Mohlakeng community for the improved delivery of services on the West Rand on Wednesday morning ended in violent protests, after police shot rubber bullets and teargas at marchers.
The local ANC-controlled municipality said later the march had been a political ploy by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which was seeking votes ahead of the local government elections in 2016.
Community members burned down the municipality office, library, maternity clinic, home affairs building and the mayor’s private residence and cars.
“The police were shooting the people, the same police who escorted us from Mohlakeng to town,” said David Kolo, an ANC member living in Mohlakeng.
“They shot us before we handed over the memorandum. We are tired of this bullshit.”
The memorandum of demands Kolo was referring to was drafted by the EFF and addressed to Sylvia Thebenare, the executive mayor of Randfontein local municipality. The demands included the abolishment of high rates and taxes, the installation of prepaid electricity and water meters, the end of poor service delivery and corruption, and a demand for better jobs.
The memorandum also makes reference to a KPMG auditor’s report which alleges that tenders were given to companies owned by “girlfriends and boyfriends” of the local municipality leaders.
It also questioned why the speaker Mzi Khumalo had expensive new cars every three months, and asked why the mayor’s daughter had been given a municipal vehicle to drive – in which she was involved in an accident.
‘Shoot these dogs’
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, one community member – who would only refer to himself as Ranger out of fear of being intimidated – said they heard that Thebenare had instructed the police to shoot at the marchers to stop them from protesting and handing over the memorandum.
Another community member who lives in Thebenare’s street said community members burned down Thebenare’s house after the shooting because they heard that she had directed the police to shoot at them.
“She [Thebenare] said bulaya dintja tse [shoot these dogs] and that’s why we burned down her house and those cars,” she said.
However, the West Rand district mayor Mpho Nawa told journalists that the march and the burning down of buildings and Thebenare’s property had been “politically motivated”.
“The people who burned the mayor’s house are EFF, so we get a sense that this thing is political. If it was about service delivery then why burn buildings?” said Nawa.
“We are not shifting the blame. We are not saying the issues raised are not genuine. But some of the issues raised were allegations against the mayor,” he said.
Nawa said the EFF had led the march and this made them responsible for the violent protest.
The MEC for community safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane reiterated the sentiment, “We condemn the actions of the EFF. It is the EFF that planned the march and gave us the memorandum. We are going to force them to take responsibility for their actions and make sure they pay.”
EFF: Bring it on
EFF Gauteng responded to the allegations in a statement, saying that they “are aware the police are colluding with the ANC in a bid to silence the EFF in West Rand”.
“The community of Randfontein has for years been raising serious issues with no success … we want to place on the record that no amount of police brutality and victimisation of the masses will silence the voice of the poor and hungry,” said EFF Gauteng spokesperson Ntobeng Ntobeng.
Ntobeng said they are aware the of a report that said the EFF members responsible for the protest march will have charges pressed against them, “and we say bring it on”.
“We have given them [Randfontein municipality] seven days to respond and failure to respond [means] we will be left with no choice but to employ more radical action,” said Ntobeng.
According to Capson, a community leader and local school teacher who does not wish to be identified, the march was not politically motivated.
“Yes, the EFF planned it [the march] but we said this was a community issue. They [the local municipality] take our children who went to universities, technikons and FET colleges and place them in expanded public works programmes so that they fill potholes and build roads, instead of being given proper jobs in the municipality.
“What they do is they take their own people and give them positions. They give their own friends tenders.”
The president is failing the people
Capson said he was an umKhonto weSizwe veteran, a member of the South African Communist Party and ANC supporter.
“But the president is failing the people. We are staunch supporters of the ANC but he just comes here and smiles and sings umshini wami.”
“What they are doing is not fair. This is a very responsible community. We have never protested or incited violence. In this section we said the looters will not loot the shops owned by foreigners. We are responsible citizens.”
“But look, we don’t have houses, we still live in shacks. We talked to the mayor, we even talked to Nawa. We have been talking to Nawa since 1999,” said Capson.
Ranger said that if the community issues were not addressed then the vandalism of property would still continue.
“We’re going to continue because they don’t take us seriously. We were going to give them the memorandum but they shot at us. The municipality is abusing us. They are taking our money.
“We must burn everything. We will burn the cars, we will burn everything.”
Ranger told the M&G that the protests were not about which party people supported.
“We are doing this because we are concerned.”