Protest chaos closes N3

2014-08-26 00:00

MOTORISTS on the N3 at Mooi River yesterday faced intermittent road closures after a barrage of attacks on the national road by Bruntville protesters.

At around 2 am yesterday morning, the protesters sealed off all exit points of the township to ensure that nobody could leave for work or school.

They then moved to the N3 where burning tyres, rocks and concrete barricades were thrown onto the highway.

Chaos ensued as motorists found themselves redirected to the R103 as police struggled to keep the freeway clear of the debris.

The protests escalated to nearby Rosetta where the R103 was blockaded with logs and tyres were burnt.

Motorists who had avoided the N3 were disappointed and frustrated when they found themselves having to drive the 15 km back to the Mooi River toll plaza.

“This is ridiculous and frustrating because we don’t have time to waste and people should know how to handle the grievances better than this,” said a frustrated driver who was coming from Gauteng to Durban.

Toll road operators N3TC tweeted updates throughout the day, urging motorists at times to avoid the area. “The situation is volatile and SAPS are on scene,” read one tweet.

A resident in Mooi River who asked not to be named said last night, “It’s affecting everybody’s lives. Shops have closed, the petrol station is closed tonight. The petrol stations sent messages to say if you need petrol come before dark because they’re closing at 7 pm.”

The resident was critical of the police.

“The police are doing nothing. There are enough cops here to start a war but they are being intimidated by the protesters. They should be ensuring the N3 stays open. What’s next? Our staff want to come to work but they can’t. It’s just shocking.”

The protest began on Friday with complaints about service delivery issues and a call for the removal of the Mpofana Mayor Janet Mpangase-Mchunu, some councillors and senior managers.

Police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and a water canon to disperse the angry crowd who showed their grudge against the police for disturbing their protest.

The Bruntville Library was set alight and the fire brigade was refused entrance to Bruntville until police escorted them in to put out the fire. Attempts to ascertain the extent of the damage at the library were unsuccessful, but sources said the library had “burnt down”.

Most people who work for the municipality were not at work.

Businesses were also badly hit, with the Wimpy closed for the day as workers were threatened by protesters.

Police used all sorts of tactics to disperse the crowd but they remained defiant. Even late yesterday when The Witness contacted a protester by phone the sound of stun grenades could be heard in the background.

The protesters are largely an energetic group of teenagers who seemed to be fearless. They wore ventilator masks or had T-shirts around their noses to prevent themselves from inhaling tear gas.

A local economist, Clive Coetzee, said the Durban-Johannesburg corridor is the life-blood of the country’s economy. He said if the disturbance on the N3 continues without an urgent solution, it may affect the country’s export industry. But he said it was too early to determine the impact the protest has had so far.

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said 10 people were arrested and are expected to appear at Mooi River Magistrate’s Court today.

“The situation is still tense and police are monitoring it,” he said.

Those who were arrested on Friday were released without paying bail to a heroes’ welcome yesterday from the protesters.

Sources said the Greytown road was also blocked by protesters late yesterday and that a home was set alight in Bruntville, but this could not be confirmed.

DA COUNCILLOR in uMngeni Municipality and a resident in Nottingham Road, Moira Grueneberg said, “We deplore the disruption and destruction of infrastructure. Burning a library was out of line because that is a community asset.”

She condemned the intimidation of innocent citizens.

“A lot of people who live in Bruntville work in Nottingham Road and could not go to work because [protesters] threatened to burn their houses if they did not participate in the protests.”

ANC MOSES Mabhida regional chairperson Alpha Shelembe said they had appointed a task team to look into the issues at Mpofana Municipality. “But before our task team could give a report to us people have allowed the situation to deteriorate,” he said.

Shelembe said they went to Mooi River on Saturday to find out from the leadership and structures of the ANC why they had allowed such conditions to escalate.

“Once a report comes from our task team, we will then act on an informed decision because we cannot just remove a mayor just because people have protested; it would not be good for the organisation,” said Shelembe.

He condemned the people of Mooi River for failing to use proper channels to address their problems but choosing anarchy, which is not a solution.

To establish if the route is safe to drive on, call 0800 634357 (0800N3HELP) or check @N3route for updates on Twitter.

KZN Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube said they have sent a delegation to the municipality. “We are in communication with the disaffected community whose objective appears to be the removal of the local mayor,” she said.

Dube-Ncube said while they recognise the right of the community to protest, “we urge protesters to be considerate to motorists who use the N3 in the vicinity of their town”.

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