Riots in black area north of Johannesburg

by Meggan Saville and Jenni Evans

Tear gas was fired at protesting residents of Kya Sand, north of Johannesburg, on Monday afternoon, Gauteng police said.

Lt-Col Lungelo Dlamini said a small group of protesters started throwing stones at police escorting them back to the Inadan informal settlement.

Police retaliated by firing gas canisters at those who were being unruly, and restored calm, he said.

The protesters had dispersed around 1.30pm, but later regrouped and blocked Riverbend and Aghulas Roads, said Democratic Alliance ward councillor Matome Mafokwane.

He said police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, but Dlamini denied this.

Earlier, members of the mayoral committee (MMC) addressed the protesters.

Housing MMC, Dan Bovu, told the community he would engage with them to prioritise their needs for planned development in the area.

When he said he would check his diary to find a suitable time for this, the protesters jeered at him.

Public safety MMC Matshidiso Mfikoe said a meeting would be convened with the residents’ leadership next Tuesday.

She said a broad, integrated programme of development was needed, and she said she would ask the provincial government, before the meeting, about long-term solutions to problems facing the community.

“We need money for building roads, for sewers… this needs to be quantified,” Mfikoe said.

Mafokwane said that the possible relocation of residents from Inadan, an informal “mini-settlement”, to the greater Kya Sand informal settlement was the reason initially given for the protest.

A small group had turned out on Wednesday to protest against the relocation, but this had escalated into demands for housing and sanitation.

Bovu said about 2000 people living at the informal settlement needed to be moved because it was on a wetland and not conducive to development.

Possible solutions included moving families to Kya Sand or Cosmo City and speaking to local private land owners to find suitable land.

Around 500 protesters sang and waved sticks, watched by a large police contingent on Monday.

Police cordoned off Malibongwe road in the vicinity of the protest. A water cannon was on standby, but was not used.

Earlier, Mafokwane said the protest was not political.

“I don’t want to believe that this is political, I want to separate this from politics,” he said.

Mafokwane said it was unclear what had sparked the renewed protests.

“Obviously something must have happened… It started with one grievance, now it’s packing on top with others,” he said.

A spokesman for the informal settlement dwellers, Ephraim Lifuwas, said employers were likely to bear the brunt of the protest as workers were unable to get to work.

The intention was to pressurise the government into yielding to their demands.

“Build houses. That is what we need,” he said.

Regarding the relocation of residents, Mafokwane said normally a decision was made on an issue only after departments had given councillors a detailed brief, and feedback had been obtained from the community.

Even he, as a councillor, was not sure of the situation regarding the relocation, he said.

“I’m in the face of this protest. I need to give them answers, but even I don’t know what is going on.

“A meeting was secured for tonight, but now the situation has overtaken us, and we are talking about a big crowd wanting answers now.

“It’s no longer about the move, it’s now about water, housing, sanitation.”

Mafokwane said that although the DA controlled the ward politically, the African National Congress-run council controlled the resources.

“Leaving aside whether the protest is legal or illegal, their concerns are legitimate, they are valid, make no mistake,” he said.

The Kya Sand protest is the latest in a number of protests around the country in the past 10 days, including protests in Heidelberg in Gauteng and Hangberg in the Western Cape.

Apart from a protest at a church in Evaton, that appeared to be connected to allegations of Satanism, the other protests were intended to draw attention to housing, water, electricity and education complaints.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa visited the site of protests in the farming area of Heidelberg last week.

The ANC has urged people to be patient with the government’s pace of installing utilities and providing housing.

The Kya Sand informal settlement was established in the past two decades, on a tract of land originally surrounded by farms and agricultural holdings.

Since then it has changed into a light industrial and retail zone. – Sapa