Bystanders hurt in protests

2016-07-11 14:56
Railway Reserve residents in Woodlands display the tear gas canisters and rubber bullet casings that fell into their homes after Site 11 protesters allegedly took cover from police in the reserve.

Railway Reserve residents in Woodlands display the tear gas canisters and rubber bullet casings that fell into their homes after Site 11 protesters allegedly took cover from police in the reserve. (Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Innocent bystanders are finding themselves in the middle of political unrest in KwaZulu-Natal as the country heads toward municipal elections next month.

At the weekend, Durban and Pietermaritzburg residents found themselves at the mercy of frustrated protesters hurling petrol bombs, stones and bricks.

Protesters battled police, who responded with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Woodlands Railway Reserve residents woke in the middle of a violent protest yesterday morning, with reports of another protest planned for the same area today.

It was alleged that Woodlands Site 11 residents, unhappy with the choice of the ward councillor candidate, took to the streets to voice their frustrations, with a protest at the nearby Railway Reserve.

In a disturbing account, a resident who would not be named for fear of victimisation, said he was hit over the head with brick while sleeping when protesters came into his house to force him to join the strike.

“I had been sleeping when I felt a blow to the back of my head. They told me I had to join them and there was nothing I could do,” he said.

Another resident, a mother of an eight-month-old baby, said she had rushed her son to hospital after Site 11 protesters ran into their residential area as police fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at them.

A tear gas canister fell a few metres from her house, causing the gas to fill the house and leaving her son battling to breathe.

“I was scared and I didn’t know what to do, or where to run for safety. I thought the shacks were burning,” she said.

“I rushed to my son and ran out for help. People were confused and when we ran out of the house the police told us to go back.

“I told them I was seeking help for my son … he was struggling to breathe.’

Another Woodlands resident said her son was driving toward the Northway Mall yesterday morning, when protesters threw concrete slabs at the car, endangering her son’s life and causing damage estimated at R40 000 to the vehicle.

The resident, who would not be named, said her son had been an innocent bystander and had not been involved in any of the political unrest sweeping the city.

“There are innocent lives at stake,” she said.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with these issues yet we are being targeted.”

The resident said she had reported the incident to the police.

KZN police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said protesters had blocked Woodlands Road with burning tyres and stones and started damaging vehicles travelling along the road.

“Three vehicles were damaged. The Public Order Police Unit were deployed in the area and two suspects were arrested for public violence,” he said.

On Saturday, News24 reported that protesters from the Kennedy Road in Durban informal settlement had petrol bombed an eThekwini Municipality bus and truck.

Zwane said the protesters were complaining about their shacks being demolished.

“Fifteen passengers who were in a bus were injured and two were seriously injured as a result of the petrol bomb,” said Zwane.

“A case of public violence has been opened at the Sydenham police station.”

Two weeks ago, political unrest in New Hanover over the candidate ward councillor led to the stoning of a local man’s vehicle.

When the man climbed out of his car to speak to the protesters, they began chasing him and he was run over by a driver who was trying to escape the hail of stones being thrown by the crowd.

The man was rushed to hospital in a critical condition.

MSUNDUZI DA mayoral candidate Mergan Chetty said yesterday that communities’ unhappiness with ANC ward councillors had led to protests across the province, and in Pietermaritzburg — in Copesville, the France location, Eastwood and Georgetown.

“This morning [yesterday morning] there were children running away from tear gas and rubber bullets,” he said.

“The ANC must take responsibility. These protests are holding other residents to ransom and the party needs to get their act together.

“Unrest has hit large parts of the province. When are the ANC going to take this seriously? What are they waiting for and where are they to calm the situation down?

“Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg and it is frightening to think of what the consequences might be going forward,” he said.

KZN ANC spokesperson Mhlaba Memela said it was not within the ANC principles to be violent and that any acts of violence were not in the party’s name.

He said the ward councillors had been registered with the IEC and if people had any grievances, they should be lodged with provincial leadership. He said violence was not condoned.

Memela urged the police to take action against those who damaged property and injured others during protests as these were criminal offences.

AFTER police had dispersed disgruntled Woodland residents from the Railway Reserve, another protest flared up in Claridge, near Northdale.

The residents blockaded the road in protest against an ANC ward councillor candidate.

Burning tyres and broken bottles were everywhere and police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Three people reportedly sustained injuries.

Residents complained about police indiscriminantly using tear gas.

“They just came here and started shooting and firing tear gas straight into our homes,” said a resident who would not be named.

“We support the ANC and we will stand by them, but we cannot tolerate what is happening now.

“We know who we want to represent us but they have chosen somebody we don’t know.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  protest

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