Protesters beaten up before they could march

2013-06-16 06:00

Councillors from an Mpumalanga municipality gave residents permission to protest, but then allegedly had them so severely beaten the day before, they couldn’t even assemble.

The councillors allegedly sent gangs in balaclavas to flog residents of Embalenhle township, near Secunda, with sjamboks late last month.

They also damaged two vehicles belonging to protest leaders.

The attacks were intended to stop residents taking part in the march organised by the Embalenhle joint committee against the Govan Mbeki municipality.

The committee wanted to raise concerns about electricity outages, raw sewage on their streets, poorly maintained roads, nepotism in the allocation of RDP houses and the misappropriation of public funds.

Municipal manager Mmela Mahlangu approved the march but was later accused of distributing pamphlets discouraging residents from participating.

The pamphlets read: “Don’t agree to be used by people who demand to be awarded tenders they don’t qualify for.”

Five councillors, including Govan Mbeki council speaker Cyril Gwiji, Philisiwe Nzama, Hilda Mahlangu, Elias Sibande and Thandiwe Zulu and nine residents, are facing charges of public violence.

They appeared briefly in the Evander Magistrates’ Court on Thursday and were released on R500 bail each until their next appearance on July 11. The 14 accused were supported by a group clad in ANC regalia.

Embalenhle joint committee members spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity.

“We were assaulted a day before the march, and when we fled to the police station, they continued in front of the police. They drove in convoys and broke the windows of one of our houses and of two vehicles,” said one.

“As they drove around in convoys, they had police officers and taxi owners in their company. A taxi owner even bought certain cops KFC and iced tea.”

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Colonel Leonard Hlathi denied that police took part in the assaults. “We dispute those allegations because we acted on the complaints and arrested people,” he said.

Govan Mbeki spokesperson Henry Masango said it was “disingenuous” to accuse Mahlangu of sabotaging a march he had approved.

In response to the DA’s demand that the local politicians be investigated for breach of the councillors’ code of conduct, Masango said: “We can’t comment about the arrests of councillors because we’ve not been formally informed.”

DA councillor Tarnia Baker said the councillors’ behaviour was “thuggish.”

“There was absolutely no justification in attempting to prevent ordinary people from exercising their Constitutional right to gather and to protest, especially as all the necessary permissions were granted,” she said.

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