Clashes over provincial control of Matatiele turn violent

2008-10-16 00:00

Violence erupted in Matatiele yesterday as two groups, one for the incorporation of the town into the Eastern Cape and the other supporting its re-incorporation into KZN, clashed in the centre of town.

Three people were injured when police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the pro-KZN group.

The group allegedly tried to block the pro-Eastern Cape group from marching through the town.

The march was a show of support for the government’s 2006 decision to incorporate Matatiele into the Eastern Cape.

However, Mandla Galo, convenor of the Matatiele Maluti Mass Action Organising Committee, believes there were sinister motives.

He told The Witness that the march was being used by some disgruntled leaders of the ANC in the Eastern Cape to mobilise support for a breakaway party.

“People of Matatiele were not happy with the march because we felt that these people were now using the demarcation issue for political point scoring,” Galo said.

Police spokesman Captain Ernest Sigobe said that as the marchers were making their way through the centre of town, the opposing group tried to block their way.

“There was a group of about 400 people carrying knobkerries and sticks. This group tried to prevent those taking part in the march from doing so. Police tried to persuade this group to disperse quietly, but they would not listen. Instead the [pro KZN] group attacked the police with stones.”

Sigobe said police felt they had no choice but to use stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Ten people were charged with public violence and intimidation.

Galo, however, said MMAOC warned police about the possible outbreak of violence.

On Tuesday, the committee wrote a letter to new Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa in which it said: “there is nothing we can do as MAOC, we have tried and are still trying to find an amicable solution. But if the only language that is heard by the ANC and the government is violence, then we have no choice.”

Former Matatiele mayor Cedric Canham said he was disgusted by the behaviour of the police.

“When they realised there was going to be a stand-off, they left and came back with guns … They fired indiscriminately.”

He said shops closed their doors for fear of stampedes so people had nowhere to run.

Store owner Howard Nicol described how a woman was hit in the head by a rubber bullet as she left his shop.

Nicol said shops were looted and bicycles and blankets from a Chinese shop set alight. Tyres were burnt in the road.

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