Govt: Protesters used children as human shields

2014-02-05 18:10
(File, Sapa)

(File, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - Protesters used children as "human shields" during an attempt to burn down a police station and municipal offices, the government said on Wednesday, reacting to escalating violence by residents of poor townships who complain that state services are inadequate or expensive.

Separately, a protester was fatally shot and another was injured in a clash between two groups of protesters in Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, police said.

Demonstrators blocked roads with rocks and burning tires during a protest over plans by the provincial housing authority for a development in the area, said local mayor Greta Hlongwane, according to Sapa.

The upheaval follows a surge in protests in communities in other parts of the country where the state struggles to deliver services, challenging the ruling African National Congress party ahead of elections this year.

Police responded to some violent protests with deadly gunfire, drawing criticism from human rights activists who say a culture of lawlessness has taken root among some segments of the police.

Police in Gauteng have dealt with 569 protest marches in the last three months, Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba, the acting police commissioner, told Sapa.

He said 122 of the protests were violent and he urged the public not to be "armchair critics" of a severely strained police force.

A section of a municipal office building in East London was damaged by fire on Wednesday, Eastern Cape police said.

Only a small section of the building was damaged in the fire, allegedly started by striking municipal workers, Captain Stephen Marais said.

Demonstrators set several buildings, including a clinic, on fire on Wednesday in Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria, to protest what they say are high electricity bills. There were no reported injuries.

Several dozen people were arrested in another violent protest in the area a day earlier. Last week, demonstrators there set a police station and other public facilities on fire.

The government referred to "a trend of using children as human shields during protests", citing an incident in which a group of teenagers led protesters who wanted to burn down a police station and other municipal offices in Bronkhorstspruit.

The use of children in such protests puts their education opportunities at risk, said Phumla Williams, a senior government spokesperson.

"This is a violation of fundamental human rights that may hinder children's development, potentially leading to lifelong psychological damage," Williams said in a statement. "We, therefore, urge parents who involve children in destroying public property and committing violence during protest to refrain from such behaviour."

Dozens of children, some in school uniform, were involved in protests in Bronkhorstspruit on Tuesday, and a public library was torched, according to The Citizen newspaper. It said one frustrated police officer shouted at the crowd: "You are burning your children's education. You are burning their books."

- AP
Read more on:    johannesburg  |  protests  |  service delivery protests
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