There was chaos in and around Mthatha when an army battalion was granted freedom of the city in the form of a military parade yesterday.
Commuters, pupils, teachers, business owners and motorists rushing to work were as a result, stuck in a traffic snarl-up for hours yesterday morning.
King Sabata Dalindyebo (KSD) municipal bosses had decided to cordon off several intersections on some of the city’s busiest streets in preparation for the military parade by members of the South African National Defence Force.
The parade and other festivities were a build-up to the municipality officially awarding 14 South Africa Infantry Battalion the freedom of the city in Mthatha yesterday.
As the city descended into chaos with cars, trucks and taxis backed up in long winding traffic jams, ambulances ferrying patients to hospitals, battled to find their way through the gridlock.
Parts of Madeira Street, York Road, Owen Street, all linking up with Nelson Mandela Drive which in turn link up with the N2 and Sutherland Street, which in turn links up with the R61 were shut off to motorists.
A wave of anger swept through the city when people using public transport – and motorists – could not find their way through some of the streets.
Residents and motorists lashed out at KSD bosses for failing to alert them about the parade and road closures on time.
Patrick Mazibuko, who arrived late for work at a company in Madeira Street said his taxi dropped him off on the outskirts of town. “They never told us anything,” he fumed.
His boss Phumla Skenjana, said it had taken her over two hours to navigate her way to her business. She said the road closures had also resulted in a loss of income
Motorist Lungelo Mpongwana said the situation was chaotic and he battled to get his children to school on time.
Beatrice Zide, who works for a glass fitment company, said she had witnessed two horrible accidents on her way to work after motorists did not want to allow others a way through traffic.
She said her car was also almost hit by a rushing taxi, just a few metres from her workplace.
Zuko Mkizwana, who works at a wheel alignment company, said they had lost a lot of business, while teacher Wonga Ndzamela said pupils and teachers had arrived late.
OR Tambo District Chamber of Business president, Vuyisile Ntlabati, criticised the municipality saying they should have chosen a quieter day or even the weekend to stage the parade.
Mthatha Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association spokesman Madyibi Ngxekana, said it had become the norm for the authorities not to bother informing residents about municipal programmes.
But KSD acting spokesman Zibele Limani, dismissed the criticism, saying they had alerted citizens through their own Facebook page and other media platforms.
Notices about the closures were also furnished to all businesses operating inside the city, he said.
Opposition parties, however, laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of mayor Dumani Zozo.
Saturday Dispatch can confirm that opposition parties stormed out of a KSD council meeting on Thursday where an enrobing ceremony for the mayor was held.
Yesterday, both UDM councillor Mabandla Gogo and DA party leader in KSD, Raymond Knock, accused Zozo of being responsible for the chaos. They claimed the cash-strapped municipality had splurged around R90000 for both the enrobing and the awarding of freedom of the city events.
“We warned him [Zozo] during the council meeting,” he said.
Gogo also questioned where the money came from as the municipality was cash-strapped.
Knock also accused Zozo of “trying to make a statement. We cannot even fix potholes, but are spending exorbitant amounts on tributes.”
Limani declined to explain where the budget for the two events had come from or why the military was being given the freedom of the city. He referred questions to Zozo and public safety portfolio committee head, Tshepo Machaea.
Neither Machaea nor Zozo could be reached for comment at the time of writing yesterday. Their cellphones rang unanswered. — firstname.lastname@example.org