Town in flames

2013-01-21 00:00

RESIDENTS of Sasolburg yesterday rushed to lock down their shops as more than 3 000 rioters from the Zamdela township took to the streets, looting, threatening residents and blocking roads with any obstacle they could drag on to the road.

The riots continued until last night and by 8.30 pm, police spokesperson Constable Peter Kareli said: “It is getting worse.

“They said they will now also attack the police.”

Earlier, the rioters had barricaded roads with cement dustbins, road signs and advertising boards, railings and even traffic lights and animal carcasses. Children as young as seven were among the thousands of rioters who shattered windows and looted shops in the central business district of goods ranging from jewellery to food and clothes.

The riots erupted after officials of the Metsimaholo Municipality addressed residents of Zamdela yesterday on the planned merger of the Metsimaholo and Ngwathe municipalities.

The Metsimaholo Municipality comprises Sasolburg, Oranjeville and Deneysville.

The Ngwathe municipality comprises Parys, Vredefort, Heilbron, Koppies and Edenville.

Sister paper Beeld learned that the officials had to flee and use alternative routes to escape from Zamdela when the crowd turned violent.

Police reinforcements were called in yesterday morning and by yesterday afternoon police cars could be seen chasing through the streets of Sasolburg to disperse small groups of troublemakers.

Large rocks and dead animals blocked roads in and around Sasolburg.

The municipal building and several municipal cars in Sasolburg were looted and set alight.

The windows of the pay office were shattered and Beeld saw several young looters emerge carrying goods.

Rioters threw stones at police, ambulances and anyone standing in their way.

At one stage looters also threatened photographer Lucky Maibi.

A resident negotiated with the group of people who had him surrounded, giving him 10 minutes to run for safety.

The police used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Yesterday afternoon clouds of black smoke hung over the town and Zamdela as rioters burned tyres. On the R57 chaos ruled for most of the day and members of the Vaal Emergency Care (VEC) and police officers stopped motorists, advising them to turn around.

Giant road signs had been torn down and dragged across the road.

A large crowd had gathered at the four-way stop on the road to Heilbron.

Paramedics of the VEC were attacked when they arrived to treat a child who was reportedly hit by a rubber bullet while with the crowd of rioters.

A group threw rocks at VEC paramedic Marius Venter when he removed obstacles in the road near the four-way stop on the road to Heilbron.

“We loaded the child in the ambulance and drove away,” Venter said.

In another incident, a crowd wanted to set fire to the car driven by a woman from Sebokeng. She raced off and struck one of the rioters.

Police officers confirmed that many people had been arrested by last night, but could not confirm a total number.

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