Tembisa protests, Krugersdorp anger raise fears of new wave of violence

What started as a service delivery protest in Tembisa on Friday has degenerated into looting, adding to the tension that has simmered below the surface in South Africa since violence and vandalism rocked KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July last year.

The unrest in Hospital View in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, which left four people dead and public infrastructure destroyed in what started as protests against high electricity tariffs and poor service delivery on Monday, comes amid rising anger west of the city after the gang rape of a group of young women by suspected illegal miners.

Tembisa residents were angered after community members, who wanted to meet with Ekurhuleni mayor Tania Campbell last Friday, 29 July, to address their grievances, had to contend with instead meeting members of the mayoral committee (MMCs) on her behalf.

Tembisa councillor Siyanda Makhubo accused the Tembisa Community Forum of “collapsing” discussions aimed at addressing residents’ concerns over the absence of the mayor “even after it was explained that the executive mayor had delegated MMCs responsible for grievances raised by the community; tarrifs, indigent policy, water and electricity rates and debt rehabilitation”.

Makhubo said as a result, the residents of Tembisa had woken up on Monday to all transport routes to and from the area being inaccessible, resulting in children being unable to go to school and workers failing to report to work. The Tembisa customer care centre was vandalised, while software and computer systems were stolen.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura condemned the violence, saying acts of criminality undermined the real concerns that were raised by the community.

“We acknowledge that residents have the democratic right to express their grievances. However, communities must express their grievances in a responsible and constructive manner. The violent and destructive nature of these protests is unacceptable,” Makhura said.

Gauteng member of the executive council (MEC) for human settlements and urban planning, Lebogang Maile, condemned what he called the excessive use of force to end the violence.

“Equally, we condemn the violent nature of the protest, which led to the torching of public infrastructure,” Maile said, sending condolences to the families of those killed.

“Our communities must raise their grievances in a peaceful manner and most importantly, create space for solution-orientated engagements, as the destruction of infrastructure during protest action will only exacerbate the problem.”

The Tembisa protest is the latest evidence of the raging discontent that has persisted in the country and which partly spurred last year’s violence during the riots in July that left more than 350 people dead.

In Mogale City, the municipality incorporating Krugersdorp, where a film crew was robbed and eight women raped last Thursday while filming, residents say police have let them down by failing to clamp down on illegal activities at abandoned mines such as the one where the attack occurred.

A flyer sent out late on Monday under the banner “Mogale Residents” called on the community to observe a shutdown on Thursday 4 August.

“As a community we are the ones who can close this illegal mining and get rid of the crimes happening there,” it said.

“We going to close all the mining holes, with or without (police) support, and all the shacks next to those mines will be demolished on that day. Crime has no space in our city, let’s take charge, or else our community will always face crime activities. No movement until we get rid of (these) monsters,” the flyer read.

South African police have since launched a crackdown on illicit mining in the West Rand, arresting scores of people, many of them said to be foreigners in the country illegally. None have, however, been definitively linked to last week’s attack and the gang rapes.

The arrests of foreign nationals will do little to quell tensions in a country that has seen frequent xenophobic attacks in recent years, with communities — mainly in poor townships — accusing those that are in the country illegally of committing crime and stealing jobs from locals.

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