Sobantu residents blockade roads to protest new cemetery

2009-10-20 00:00

SOBANTU residents blockaded roads with scrap metal, rocks and burning tyres yesterday, protesting against the development of the Hollingwood cemetery and demanding that houses be built for them there.

The protesters barricaded the Royston and Promed roads intersection, blocking the entrance and exit to the township between 5 am and 7 am yesterday.

When Msunduzi Municipality firefighters extinguished the fires on the road, protesters threatened to stone the fire engine and told firefighters to “back off”.

Municipal security and traffic police and more than 40 armed police officers kept watch as the community shouted slogans and profanities. After the objects blocking the road were removed, the crowd continued to sing liberation songs.

More than 200 angry residents demanded to see Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo.

Earlier this year, the community invaded land at the Hollingwood site, but were removed by the municipality. “We have no houses, but the council decides to use land for a cemetery. Hlatshwayo failed to honour an agreement we had, that no development would continue until the dispute was resolved,” said a residents, adding that they are fighting for the future of their children.

Residents claim they have no space in their small houses. “We are overcrowded; every single room is a bedroom, the kitchen, living room, everywhere. We want to know from the mayor if dead people are more important than the living; we sleep on verandas, while the municipality gives our land to the dead.”

Two cemeteries, a dumping site and the sewage works are located in ward 35.

“The New England road dumping site is right across from Sobantu, the Darville sewage works is on the other side. In this ward we have the Mountain Rise and Thembalethu cemeteries and now they want to start another graveyard within our community. This is a death wish and no progress for us young people,” said a young woman.

They claimed that the township is lagging behind in development, saying those they voted into power managed to provide them with three cemeteries.

Sobantu was in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, but it has not reaped the fruits of freedom, said residents.

ANC insiders in the ward claimed that an agreement was reached with the municipality and the community not to go ahead with the cemetery, until residents’ issues had been addressed. However, they claimed that the municipality disregarded the agreement.

Ward councillor Ithiel Ngubane said he is aware of the problems faced by the community.

“It is true that people are overcrow­ded and they told me about their disapproval of the use of the land as a graveyard,” he said.

When asked if there is any alternative land that could be used for an “extension” of Sobantu, he said there is no other land available in the ward. Ngubane and ANC branch members in Sobantu met with representatives from the ANC region yesterday evening to discuss the matter.

Later, a public meeting was held where residents were asked to be patient while the matter was being discussed with the municipality.

Hlatshwayo could not attend the meetings as she had left to join other mayors from throughout the country, for the consolidated corporate gover­nance meeting with President Jacob Zuma, in Cape Town.

The protest was conducted in a peaceful manner with no incidents of violence reported. The police left the scene before the crowd dispersed

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