Roads re-open after protests

By Drum Digital
17 October 2012

Some roads were re-opened in Wattville outside Benoni on Wednesday after they were earlier blockaded by protesters living on the outskirts of the township.

Rocks, tree trunks and tyres had been placed in the middle of the roads, preventing motorists from passing.

Parts of the Benoni CBD were left in ruins as hundreds of protesters made their way to the city's municipal offices to deliver a memorandum of grievances.

Dustbins were overturned, garbage bags torn open and cement litter bins were uprooted and thrown onto the streets by demonstrators who came from the Emandleni, Emlotheni, Harry Gwala and local hostels.

The crowds marched to the official buildings to demand houses as well as better services.

Outside the municipal offices, several protesters hurled stones and sticks at policemen who stood cordoning off the building. Police officers retaliated with rubber bullets.

Around 20 people were injured and were trampled on as those who were in front turned and tried to flee.

A few of the alleged instigators were arrested and taken away in police vehicles and the crowds were then dispersed.

As hundreds of them started their walk back to the informal settlements, others vandalised cars and shops along their way.

"I can't believe they did this," said one motorist who came out of shop to find his passenger window broken.

A Sapa reporter on the scene counted at least five badly damaged cars.

A man identified as the protest leader, Ezekial Mtungwa, walked behind the crowds.

"I am disappointed in them. This was not what we had planned," he said.

"I have told the police to take charge."

Mtungwa was part of a delegation that went into the offices to speak to officials from the department of housing.

"We wanted answers... People have been waiting for houses for a while and instead, money is disappearing and nothing is being done," he added.

They delivered a memorandum to the officials and said they were expecting a response within 14 days.

"If we don't get answers, we will march again, but next time we won't even apply for the march."

The protesters said they were tired of unfulfilled promises from officials.

"Until when will we live in shacks", read some of their placards.

Among the marchers were children dressed in school uniforms.

Many of the protesters carried sticks, golf clubs, knobkerries and branches ripped from trees as they marched.

A police helicopter hovered and a heavy police presence was seen outside the building as well as on the streets that led to the nearby Lakeside Mall.

"We vote but get nothing in return," said protester Ludwick Mavundla.

Earlier, workers and schoolchildren were prevented from accessing or leaving the township as large rocks were placed in the middle of the exits.

Taxis were also not operating.

"We don't know why they are including us in this," said a resident who identified herself as Sarah.

A letter circulated around the township yesterday said this would be a peaceful march.

-by Sapa

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