Protest closes PSJ road for 7hrs
Police use teargas to chase protesters demanding their road is tarred
For more than seven hours on Tuesday the busy R61 route between Libode and Ntlaza was blocked with trees, rocks and burning tyres.
The road was opened after police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and teargas at hundreds of angry villagers and taxi operators around midday. Protest marshall Simon Tafeni was hit by a rubber bullet.
The protesters, starting at about 5.30am, carried placards and chanted “Weziwe, uyaxoka,uzosinika le ndlela [Weziwe, you are lying, you will give us this road]”.
They told the Dispatch team that roads and transport MEC Weziwe Tikana had promised to tar a 48km gravel stretch between St Barnabas hospital in Ntlaza and the Hluleka nature reserve near Ngqeleni.
Development forum chair Thembinkosi Gwaji said Tikana had reneged on her promise to start the work around October following a series of meetings in July. “People have died on this road, among them pregnant women being rushed to hospital to give birth,” he said. “Others end up giving birth on the road. sick and frail people have died. It is impassable on rainy days.”
Gwaji said there were nearly 50 villages between St Barnabas and Hluleka in four wards in Nyandeni municipality. All were serviced by St Barnabas.
Earlier in day, the Dispatch saw a bakery truck caught up in the queue of waiting vehicles being looted by some youths of its bread and rolls. No one was arrested.
Among the motorists waiting to pass were couriers rushing blood supplies to clinics in Flagstaff and beyond. Siphumzo Mkokelwa, on his way through from East London, said: “We work with time and have no other option. But if you try to force your way through, you might die.”
Motorist Inga Ngqoro and his colleagues had been driving from Komani to Port St Johns.
He tried to negotiate with the protestors to no avail. “Why can't they let us through?”
Apart from the 48km stretch, the protestors also want the MEC to regravel a 15km stretch near Noxova village which has become impassable.
Gwaji said they met Tikana on July 6, when she initially told them there was no budget for the Hluleka road. However, she called them about two weeks later to say she had found the money. “This [Hluleka] is a busy road. We want it tarred.”
He said the state spent millions paying contractors to put isabhunge (gravel) on the road. “It washes away in a few months.”
The villagers marched in January after a breakdown in communication with Tikana’s office. Gwaji said they’d handed a petition to Nyandeni mayor Mesuli Ngqondwana, who was accompanied by two officials from her department. In it they gave her seven days to respond. She had allegedly told them she had not received any petition.
“We want Tikana to tell us when is she going to build a tar road on this Hluleka route. We don't want a date after the 2019 general elections or a date nearer to the elections because we fear she might be moved from her position and sent to national parliament.”
Ntlaza Taxi Association chair Dumo Ndzendze said new vehicles were ruined by the road in two years. They were told in 2009 that R279m had been allocated for the Hluleka road.
But they later learnt the money had been used for a disaster in the OR Tambo district.
“The shocks in the cars are damaged within a week. That is how bad this road is,” he said.
Provincial roads and transport spokesperson Unathi Binqose said the department was committed to tarring the Hluleka route. He urged patience and asked residents and drivers to reconsider the protest action.
“Implementation has now been earmarked for the 2019-20 financial year.”
Plans were ready in 2012 but delayed to comply with new laws on occupational health and safety. Failure to comply meant risking an irregular expenditure censure from the auditor general...