‘To hell with Parys’

2013-01-27 10:00

“Ace ke modimo wa Free State (Premier Ace Magashule is the God of the Free State),” said Zamdela businessman Thabang Mofokeng*, standing in front of his empty shop-cum-tavern.

Mofokeng said Magashule had ears and eyes across the province, and it was not safe to be photographed or give his real name.

“I have kids at school,” he said.

Mofokeng, whose shop is next to the police station, thought his business had survived Monday’s looting spree, during which the Free State town’s biggest wholesaler, Zio, was targeted by protesters who stole mostly liquor.

Zamdela residents violently ­opposed the proposed merger of their municipality, Metsimaholo, with Ngwathe in Parys, Magashule’s hometown.

On Tuesday morning, Mofokeng was hopeful the worst of the protests, which started on Sunday, were over.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi was scheduled to address residents at the Zamdela Stadium at 10am. Residents, who had gathered from as early as 9am, waited for him until after 11am.

Fed up, a large group of youths left the stadium singing “uAce asimfuni; sifun’iZamdela (We don’t want Ace; we want Zamdela)” and headed towards Sasolburg.

However, they were met by a heavy police contingent at the main entrance to Zamdela, next to the Sasol plant, and for a few minutes they hurled bricks and stones at police, who responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets and by spraying protesters with blue dye.

Seeing no way past the police, another large group of protesters headed to the township’s police station, about a kilometre away.

At this point, protesters, many drunk and drinking alcohol looted from Zio the previous day, came face to face with police officers ­defending their workplace.

Standing on the brick perimeter wall surrounding the police station, cops fired rubber bullets, and allegedly live ammunition, at protesters, who took turns looting Mofokeng’s tavern while ducking bullets crossing the street.

Free State police commissioner Lieutenant General Kehla Sithole described the conflict at the police station as a “siege”.

Thirty-five-year-old Pule Thulo died from gunshot wounds. Many of the police station’s front windows were broken.

Police have only confirmed Pule and Joseph Magwa’s deaths, for which murder cases have been registered with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

Mofokeng said Baloyi must take responsibility for Tuesday’s looting.

“If he had come to the meeting and announced his decision to halt the merger, there wouldn’t have been more looting,” he said.

“Someone suggested I remove the stock, but I thought the protesters may follow me home and cause harm to my house and family.”

*Not his real name

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