Makhanda potholes protests: N2 highway shut, dept petrol bombed, public schools closed

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Service delivery protest in Mkahanda shuts down the busy N2 highway linking Gqeberha, Makhanda and Qonce.
Service delivery protest in Mkahanda shuts down the busy N2 highway linking Gqeberha, Makhanda and Qonce.
Mcebisi Ngqina
  • Taxi operators used their own money and manpower in March this year to fix some of the worst potholes in Makhanda. 
  • Last week three ICT businesses announced that they partnered to fix about 300 potholes in the town in a project that would take two months. 
  • For years, residents of Makhanda have had to endure unreliable and interrupted service delivery.

A municipal department was petrol bombed during a massive taxi operator protest over potholes in Makhanda, which brought the Eastern Cape town to a standstill, causing severe traffic jams on the busy N2 highway.

Dozens of people using the N2 highway, which links towns such as Qonce, Makhanda and Gqeberha, have been trapped in the heavy traffic congestion.

Eastern Cape police also warned motorists to stay clear of the N2 to avoid the conflict.

READ | Fed-up businesses decide to fix Makhanda potholes themselves

The Eastern Cape education department decided to close all public schools in Makhanda due to the volatile situation, spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said.

Rhodes University spokesperson Velisile Bukula said angry protesters even targeted students and chased them out of lecture halls. But no students were harmed, Bukula added.

"We can confirm that a group of protesters marched on to the university campus and demanded that staff members be released [to join] in support of the ongoing Makhanda protest this morning. As a result, a number of physical activities on campus have been placed on hold until further notice. We continue to monitor the situation," Bukula said.

Meanwhile, Eastern Cape police have opened a case of arson following the petrol bombing of the local municipality's sanitation department in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said: "It is alleged that at about 02:45 a patrolling security company noticed some flames inside an office. The fire department was quick to respond and avert major damages. Only three windowpanes and a wooden table inside the office were damaged.”

Naidu said Public Order Police (POP) were dispatched to monitor the situation. 

Naidu said:

Service delivery protest action in the area is continuing and motorists and travellers are warned to use alternative routes as the N2 [in] Makhanda is blocked with barricades both ways at 7 Fountains. No vehicles can pass through. Motorists are advised to divert at Nanaga and Peddie. Further updates will be provided. POP is in attendance.

On Monday, police used stun grenades and teargas to disperse the angry protesters who threatened motorists passing through. 

No arrests were made, Naidu added.

The protest action comes as frustrated taxi operators voice their outrage over massive potholes in the area.

Operators are demanding a face-to-face meeting with Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, to address the state of the roads after meetings with the mayor of the Makana municipality, Mzukisi Mphahlwa, yielded no results.  

In March, the taxi operators used their own money and manpower to fix some of the worst postholes in the area. They complained that the potholes were causing costly damages to their minibuses.

Last week, ICT and telecommunications companies Vox, Ecologic and Frogfoot, announced that they had partnered to fix 300 potholes in the town in a project estimated to take two months. 

Unemployed People's Movement (UPM) leader Ayanda Kota warned that if the municipality failed to deliver on its constitutional obligations, residents would revolt.

READ | Families of 3 killed by bomb fear more deaths could result from unfenced army base in Makhanda

On Tuesday, Kota said the UPM was fully behind the taxi operators' protest. 

Kota said:

I have warned that the municipality was sitting on a ticking time bomb. As soon as residents take over services that should be delivered by the municipality, it tells you that the municipality has failed on its constitutional obligation and people are rising up. This is a revolt. It was long coming.

On social media, images of motorists stuck in traffic went viral on Tuesday, with videos of protesters shutting supermarkets and other businesses in the town.

Taxi association bosses were not immediately available to comment.

One taxi operator, who asked not to be named, said the leaders were locked in a meeting with municipal management and police.   

"We are still waiting for Mabuyane. All roads have been shut. We are not moving until all our demands are met," he stressed 

Mabuyane's office could not immediately respond to News24's questions. The response will be added once received.

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