Arsonists gut Richmond council offices and WW1 memorial hall

2014-11-18 00:00

THE ANC is appealing for information on the arsonists who yesterday petrol bombed Richmond’s municipal offices and historic memorial hall.

The municipal manager’s office and the hall were completely destroyed, while a part of the finance section was left in ruins.

Firefighters and the South African Police Bomb Disposal Unit sifted through the evidence of vodka bottles used as petrol bombs at the scene yesterday.

Mayor Andrew Ragavaloo said the hall had been built to commemorate the fallen heroes of World War 1. He said it was tragic that this happened in the year when the centenary of that war was being commemorated.

However, as Ragavaloo, councillors and municipal staff stood around the smouldering ruins, they pondered over their own feelings of being under siege.

Ragavaloo said the attackers entered through the back of the property via the Education Department’s premises, so were not spotted by the security guards who stand at the front.

“What worries us is that the lock on the gate to that property had been unlocked and was not broken,” Ragavaloo said.

He said security guards noticed the fire at about 4 am and immediately contacted the fire department in the next street. Ragavaloo said they had no idea what could have caused the arson attack.

“Last week, there was an informal gathering over sanitation problems in Ndaleni. Sanitation is a function of the uMgungundlovu District Municipality. Police met with the group and this was explained to them,” he said.

Richmond has been wracked by ANC factional battles over the past two years. The Witness previously reported that vigilantes calling themselves the “Marikana Group” were conducting a reign of terror in the town. They wanted the mayor and his executive committee to be ousted from their positions.

Since 2013, councillors’ homes, including Ragavaloo’s, have been shot at. Speaker Thulani Shabalala’s car was torched and his bodyguard Sazini Ngcobo’s house was set alight. Police found evidence of petrol bombs used in those attacks as well.

“We are a municipality under siege,” said Ragavaloo.

He added that every time the municipality bagged a municipal excellence award, they came under attack.

Last month, the municipality won an award for its community local economic development work at the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance’s Municipal Excellence Awards. This was the fifth award given to the municipality in the past four years, which included that of having the best municipal manager.

“Nobody has communicated to us what their problems are with the municipality, but here we are under threat by unseen, cowardly individuals who operate under cover of darkness,” Ragavaloo said.

He added that as they looked on at their burning buildings, staff and councillors were coming up to him and saying, “What’s next?”.

“People are worried that lives may be lost the next time there is an attack.”

A councillor, who did not want to be named, said he was seriously considering whether it was worth carrying on. “It is not just my life that is in danger, but my family’s as well and for what?”

Municipal manager Sibusiso Sithole said he could not imagine what the motive was, other than being an attack on the community. Sithole said they will not cower before such acts of cowardice and will continue to serve the community, but called for understanding of delays encountered as a result of the fire.

Police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane said a case of arson was being investigated, but no arrests had been made.

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