Stutterheim in flames

Fury, frustration boils over as protesters say their suffering is ignored

A protester is in critical condition after being shot by police during a day of fury in Stutterheim that saw youths torch four state buildings, including a clinic.
Independent police investigative directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said the man was shot after “members of the community assaulted a police officer and threw stones at police vehicles”.
Earlier, Dlamini had stated that the man had died, but late on Tuesday night released news that he had survived, but was in a critical condition.
Eyewitnesses said a mob of 500 rampaged through the town stoning cars and dragging burning tyres into government buildings in the CBD.
There was also drama in Breidbach as hundreds of protesters closed the N2 for most of the day. Police spokesperson Siphokazi Mawisa said nine people were arrested in Breidbach for public violence and malicious damage to property. “Police used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd,” she added.
Traffic was pelted with stones in Stutterheim and on the N2. Witnesses said police seemed to be outnumbered in Stutterheim. Video clips showed Amahlati municipal offices ablaze and gutted. The buildings were fire-blackened, smoking ruins on Tuesday night.
A motorist driving through the town towards East London in the evening said: “The situation is bad. The town is at a standstill and protestors are throwing stones at cars. Police seemed to have no capacity to deal with the protesters.”
Donald Bradbury, who drove through Stutterheim at 2.55pm, saw people running in the streets. Tyres and plastic bins were on fire and the main road was closed. “I had to take a route past the cemetery,” he said.
The Black Business Forum secretary in Amahlathi, Siyabulela Makunga, said the forum did not condone the destruction of state property, but the destruction was a wake-up call for the government to take action against those in charge of the municipality. “We raised our concern on the state of the municipality, and now young people raise their voice on the issue of service delivery and you think that our municipality is in the right hands? “In Amahlathi, and Stutterheim in particular, we have dilapidated roads. As a result, a black-owned company had to relocate, leaving young people here unemployed.
“Are municipal authorities acting in the interests of the electorate of Amahlathi or of certain individuals?”
Amahlathi mayor Phatheka Qaba said she and her speaker, Nokuzola Mlahleki, municipal manager Sikhulu Nqwena and mayoral committee member Neliswa Busika were forced to flee to safety at 10am when youths hurled a burning tyre at them, and pelted them with stones. She said a policeman threw the flaming tyre back.
Qaba said four buildings were then torched by the mob. Qaba, who is from Cathcart, said the youths accused her of giving tenders to people in her home town ahead of Stutterheim’s unemployed youth. “I left a meeting to address the protest in front of the municipal building but I only managed to say hello before the loud hailer was snatched from me,” she said.
The crowd was armed with sticks, knives and tyres. A youth leader had ordered her and others to address them in the township. “We refused. We felt threatened,” she added.
Qaba said the politicians then retreated inside a building, and as stones smashed through the windows, she ordered all staff to evacuate. In the chaos, she saw looters running out with laptops. She said the mob went to a meeting at the Amahlathi engineering offices in Upper Hill street and drew daggers on provincial and Salga officials, ordering them out.Qaba said the youths wanted a councillor fired, and claimed that the 50th birthday party of an executive mayoral committee councillor was seen as “spitting in the face of her poor neighbours” who slept hungry while politicians ate and drank. They want Qaba to step down.
Speaker Mlahleki said youths were angry at being overlooked for Sanral jobs and had given her a deadline, which they felt was ignored.
He agreed, saying the recruitment was unfair as only youths of a certain ward were hired.
“We were in the process of ironing out all the issues.
“We attended meetings with Sanral but didn’t want to return to the youths with an incomplete report.
“They got impatient and did this. We were really so close.”
Amathole district mayor Nomfusi Nxawe condemned the violence, saying protesters should not damage infrastructure that was there for their benefit. “The protesters are said to be unhappy about youth unemployment. The protest is violent, which we condemn.”
The Dispatch took the N2 from King William’s Town to Breidbach and was the only car on the four-lane freeway, normally a busy link road.
At Breidbach at least 30 police officers, many in full riot gear, occupied the entrance to the village all day. There were 12 police vehicles and two armoured hippos in sight.
About 500 people stood close to the N2 and angrily protested against Buffalo City Metro for not resolving their grievances.
Eastern Cape transport spokesperson Unathi Bhinqose said traffic had been diverted at the Berlin junction towards Zwelitsha since protesters started throwing stones at vehicles from the pedestrian bridge over the N2.
Gerald Plaatjies of the Plaaslike Besorge Inwoners, said several people had been injured and their houses damaged by rubber bullets.
Breidbach leader Antonio Reed said: “We are not violent. This was a peaceful protest until police came and started shooting at us.”
BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said they had spoken to the provincial government about the issues in Briedbach...

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