Stun grenades vs anger

2015-11-12 12:15
Waste pickers protested against the use of pellet guns and CCTV cameras to improve security, to be implemented at the New England Road municipal landfill site.

Waste pickers protested against the use of pellet guns and CCTV cameras to improve security, to be implemented at the New England Road municipal landfill site. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Branches and tyres blazed fiercely as a crowd of waste pickers fled from stun grenades and rubber bullets at the New England Road municipal landfill site on Wednesday.

Frustrated waste pickers armed with sticks, pangas, knives, crowbars and one with a club with nails driven through it, locked down the entrance of the municipal landfill site yesterday after Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela said last week that waste pickers found at the site should be shot with pellet guns.

The crowd of around 100 sang and chanted outside the entrance early after bolting the entrance gate and creating a barricade of burning refuse.

The waste pickers, who depend solely on waste picking to survive, closed up the entrance for most of the morning until they were dispersed by police using stun grenades and rubber bullets.

The crowd fled and five people were injured, with one of the injured being a 54-year-old woman, Virginia Mbatha, who was hit in the head by a rubber bullet. Her forehead was badly swollen and she appeared stunned and in pain. A groundWork staff member took both her and another woman to the district surgeon.

Last week The Witness reported a discussion in the council’s executive committee on the implementation of new and tighter security measures ­following a recent security assessment of the site.

The report showed the current ­security measures were “insufficient” and that waste pickers “intimidate” customers.

In addition to this announcement, the report said guards equipped with binoculars, PA systems, pellet guns, a site plan and portable radios would be employed to watch over the site.

The city also announced last week in council that the site would be equipped with 24-hour CCTV cameras and high mast lights.

Protesters yesterday said the new measures were “inhumane” and would only leave them destitute as their livelihood depended on waste picking.

groundWork waste campaigner ­Musa Chamane, who was present at yesterday’s protest, said the protest had also been a response to the ­municipality’s “failure to build a ­materials recovery facility (MRF) ­despite funding of R21 million for the project in 2012 given by the ­Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta)”.

Hlanganani ma-Africa Waste Picker Co-operative member and organiser Nonhlanhla Mhlope said the decision to put up cameras and use pellet guns on them was not only “undemocratic” but “inhumane” as well.

Over 40 people, including Chamane, were taken into ­custody by the police yesterday­.

Pietermaritzburg SAPS spokesperson Constable Mthokozisi Ngobese said the people were driven to the police station where they were warned by police that if they continued the ­protest, arrests would be made.

groundWork director Bobby Peek said the violence that the protesters met with yesterday morning was ­“unnecessary and inhumane”.

“This protest was organised by the people who only wanted Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela to come and meet with them,” he said.

“The protest was not violent. They did not harm anyone but they are ­people who want to sustain themselves and their families through recycling and they were met with violence.”

Mhlope said they would meet again tomorrow for discussions.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said yesterday that the issue of the landfill site tip pickers was raised at a recent meeting as it posed health, safety and security ­concerns for the municipality.

“Currently tip pickers are constructing illegal structures and shacks within and around the landfill, starting fires and breaking down fences.

“There have been violent incidents reported among the tip pickers ­themselves and that is now posing a security risk to tip pickers and council employees stationed at the landfill site,” she said.

She said the municipality wanted to protect those who worked at the landfill site including the waste pickers.

“Council cannot allow illegal ­dwellings being constructed there nor turn a blind eye to the destruction of council property by the tip pickers.”

She said the report presented last week to council was still being ­evaluated “and nowhere in the report or during executive committee did the mayor or any council official request or instruct that pellet guns be used to disperse waste pickers”.

“Council has not made a decision. Tip pickers have not been prevented from entering the landfill site; they are the ones that have prevented the ­normal functioning of the site.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  protest

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