Rubber bullets fly as Walmer protesters call for more police

Port Elizabeth – Police and residents of Walmer township in Port Elizabeth have been in a tense standoff after protesters barricaded roads with burning tyres, thick branches and builders' rubble on Tuesday morning, ironically, to demand a stronger police presence in their community.

The crowd of protesters, which grew steadily throughout the day and sat at around 500 by mid-morning, demanded that the police re-open the Fountains contact point station, which was situated within the location.

Public order police responded with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in an effort to disperse the protesters who had gathered on Heugh Road and attempted to march into the police station in Walmer, just outside Walmer township.

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One protester, who did not want to be named, said the community was tired of the ongoing violence in the township and delayed responses from the police.

"All we want is a police station," he said.

The situation has since calmed, with police monitoring the area.

Heugh Road has been closed between 8th and 11th avenues, as well as on Victoria Drive, with motorists being diverted away from the area and advised to use alternative routes.

Derelict building

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the Fountains station was not a fully manned satellite station, but an extension of the Walmer police station as a contact point for the community.

She said the satellite station had been closed due to the condition of the derelict municipal building housing it. She said the building was not fit for officers to work in as there were no ablution facilities after pipes connecting the plumbing were stolen.

"It was closed about nine months ago," she said.

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Naidu said police had deployed additional vehicles in the area after the contact station had closed.

Municipal spokesperson Kupido Baron confirmed that the municipality was indeed the owner of the land and building, but had never been informed of any problems relating to the building.

"We are fully aware how strategic a functional satellite police station is for that area in the all-important fight against crime.

"We have a lease agreement with the Department of Public Works that leases the building from the municipality on behalf of the South African Police Service," he said.

Interim solution

Baron said the deterioration of the property had taken place over a number of years, but the municipality had never been informed by the department of the need to do repairs or to refurbish the building.

"At any point we could have been informed of any problems in order for us to prioritise this matter," he said.

"We only became aware of the problem when we contacted the Department of Public Works a few months ago regarding the renewal of the lease agreement," he said.

"We were then told that the renewal of the lease will only be considered if the building is repaired," he said.

Baron said an inspection by the municipality's facilities department would be conducted as soon as possible. He said the municipality had not been informed of the police's intention to close the station.

Naidu said the police had negotiated with the Walmer ward councillor to use one of their offices until the issue with the building could be addressed.

The community had been informed of the arrangements, but still had not dispersed by the middle of Tuesday morning.

Two people had been arrested for public violence, Naidu said.

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