National 1.8.2016 10:33 am

Vuwani leaders arrested ahead of elections

Vuwani protests. Photo: Supplied

Vuwani protests. Photo: Supplied

Speaking to The Citizen on Monday morning, a community leader said he had no option but to flee his home to a place of safety.

It appears there is an attempt on the part of government to silence residents of Vuwani on the eve of the local government elections, according to a community leader, Nsovo Sambo.

Sambo was among those arrested during the violence which broke out in the area and in surrounding villages which saw more than 20 schools torched amid a protest against a decision to merge the area with Malamulele and other villages to form a new municipality.

Speaking to The Citizen on Monday morning, Sambo said he heard a knock from what sounded like police officers just before 2am.

“I decided not to answer the door because I was not sure if indeed it was police officers or thugs dressed in police uniform. Those people who knocked on my door then left and arrested some of the pro-Makhado leaders,” Sambo said.

He said he had no choice but to flee his home while searching for a place of safety.

“We as leaders from the pro-Makhado task team have been receiving messages and phone calls, telling us to be on high alert and that we have to lie low. I think this is a tactic used by the police to try and silence people of Vuwani, particularly some of us who have been speaking out against the demarcation decision,” he said.

Sambo said while he and his co leaders appealed to residents not to engage in violent acts ahead of and during the elections, the possibility of more violence breaking out could not be ruled out.

“A decision was already taken recently that the total shutdown of services will be suspended on election day, but following the arrests that have been made in recent times, I don’t think the protest action will end anytime soon because even the deployment of extra police officers in the area has just made locals even more angrier,” he added.

Vuwani has without a doubt been earmarked as one of the so-called hotspot areas and an increased police presence in the area will not come as a surprise, considering the fact that IEC officials were also disrupted during the weekend voter registration drives.

Meanwhile, both the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) and Ministry for Corporate Affairs and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) have repeatedly said the demarcation decision can only be reversed through the courts.

ANA is also reporting that four people were arrested on Monday while others were taken in for questioning as police continued investigations into the public violence.

Police spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto said the area had seen incidents of public violence in the past week.

“The SAPS have taken into questioning several people as part of the ongoing investigations regarding the situation in Vuwani,” said Otto.

“The operations are aimed at tracing suspects that are involved in public violence and other related crimes in the area. The task team arrested about four individuals early this morning regarding their involvement in the current violence.”

Residents in Vuwani and surrounding areas have vowed to bar Independent Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) officials from the area on Wednesday, the day on which the local government elections would be held, until their demands were met.

The elections boycott came after months of protests by communities demanding that their area should not form part of a newly planned municipality, arguing that they were not consulted by the MDB.

The communities rejected a peace deal signed last week by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen and eight traditional leaders, aimed at ending the shutdown in Vuwani and surrounding areas. They accused the traditional leaders of signing the deal without consulting with them.

Thousands of pupils missed classes for months as the shutdown continued in Vuwani.

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure would on Monday brief media in Vuwani on the state of readiness for the local polls in the area by the South African security agencies.

– stevent@citizen.co.za and African News Agency

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