Rioters, City strike truce

2019-05-16 15:36
Protesting on Masukwana Street brought the area to a standstill with burning tyres blocking the road for most of Wednesday morning.

Protesting on Masukwana Street brought the area to a standstill with burning tyres blocking the road for most of Wednesday morning. (Ian Carbutt)

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A truce was on Wednesday called between Msunduzi Municipality and protesting East Street Hostel dwellers who turned parts of the city centre into a no-go area on Wednesday.

This ended their protest which began on Tuesday night when they shut down Masukwana Street.

The downtown area of the CBD saw scenes of more than 150 protesters wielding sticks and broken bottles and using burning tyres and piles of smouldering litter to cut off access to streets to protest water and electricity being cut off at their hostel.

No arrests were made after police moved in. Msunduzi later managed to stop all protests after it stepped in to get the hostel’s owner, the KZN Department of Human Settlements, to settle its bill of some R200 000 for water and electricity.

Thick plumes of smoke from burning tyres blew through the mist that covered the city in the morning, as pedestrians moved briskly away from the action to avoid being caught in any potential crossfire. There was a heavy police presence with riot police on scene to monitor the situation as the morning progressed.

Traffic was diverted away from Church Street and Masukwana Street during the early-morning rush, amid reports of protesters stoning cars and forcing motorists to leave the vicinity of the demonstration.

The lower part of the CBD resembled a ghost town on Wednesday as business owners in the downtown area dared not open their shops, and those that did said they were chased away by protesters.

Abdul Jada, who owns a shop on Masukwana Street, told The Witness that cars and business owners were not allowed into the area. “All the shops are closed, from Church Street right down to [Masukwana] Street since Tuesday evening,” he said.

The Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business sent out a warning to its members about the protests.

Hostel dwellers demanded that Msunduzi mayor Themba Njilo meet with them at the hostel on Wednesday morning to discuss their grievances, but later decided that a delegation of four would go to the City Hall to see Njilo. The meeting in Njilo’s offices was attended by members of Msunduzi’s billing department and representatives from Human Settlements.

Hostel dwellers ‘pleased with the outcome’

Mayor Njilo, after the short meeting with the protesters, ordered Msunduzi staff to reconnect electricity to the hostel. “Human Settlements have committed to pay [the bill]. One payment was already reflecting this morning so we reconnected [the hostel] because of that commitment to pay,” he said.

He told The Witness he was on his way home from addressing protesting community members in Slangspruit when he heard about the Masukwana Street protest on Tuesday night.

“I thought it would be better to meet them [on Wednesday] morning and wanted them to select representatives because it’s not easy to address a mob. If it was a mob we would not have succeeded like we did,” he told The Witness.

The money owed was for a period of three months.

Njilo added, meanwhile, that the City had some R3 billion in outstanding electricity and water bills from residents. “We are out collecting money and people who owe us must come forward and make arrangements.”

The road was cleared and reopened at about midday on Wednesday and businesses reported being back to normal by the afternoon.

Sbonelo Dlamini, who was one of the four hostel dwellers who met with the mayor, said their electricity and water was disconnected at 10 am on Tuesday.

“Our guys then closed the road.

“More than 150 people live there and if there’s no water then the toilets will stink because we can’t flush them or clean anything. So, we had to ask the mayor what’s happening.”

He added that the hostel dwellers were satisfied with the outcome of the meeting and would not continue protesting.

Kiru Naidoo, a spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Human Settlements, confirmed that the outstanding bills with Msunduzi were in the process of being settled.

“The delay came about because of the closing of our systems at end of the financial year for audit purposes,” he said.

Naidoo said Human Settlements had a solid track record of meeting its financial obligations with municipalities across the province.

“This glitch is regrettable and we have given an undertaking to resolve the matter urgently.”

Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed the situation was calm by Wednesday afternoon and that officers would continue to monitor the area. Mbele said no looting or damage to property occurred during the protest.

She added that no cars were stoned either, as was suggested in WhatsApp messages that were going around the city on Wednesday.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  hostel

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