The trouble-hit West Rand town erupted yet again in the morning as police fired rubber bullets – at close range in some cases – and the violent protest swirled through streets blockaded by rocks and burning tyres.
Six people were arrested for public violence and will appear in court within the next 48 hours, police spokesperson Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said.
The touble started when ANC officials, understood to be from the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, attempted to conduct a door-to-door campaign in an area that was rocked by violent protests which lasted for over a month towards the end of last year.
Learning of the ANC’s intended campaign, livid residents took to the streets, barricading many with burning tyres, rocks and rubble, with schoolchildren, still dressed in their school uniforms at the forefront of the protest action.
It is also believed that pupils were forced out of their classrooms to take part in the demonstrations.
A running battle between the protesters and the police ensued at the local taxi rank, now renamed “Marikana”.
Pupils pelted police Nyalas with stones and damaged several police cars, windscreens and windows, Colonel Dlamini said.
Pandemonium broke out just before 11am when the ANC officials started walking into the township which was already blanketed in black smoke from the burning tyres.
“We must win this battle … this war,” an ANC officials shouted to his colleagues.
Locals began hurling stones at them and within minutes, the police started firing rubber bullets in an attempt to defuse an already volatile situation.
Then there were the loud echoes of several gunshots from ANC officials who appeared to be firing live ammunition, which had journalists and members of the public scrambling for cover at the taxi rank.
ANC spokesperson Nkenke Kekana said ANC members, including the West Rand district municipality mayor Mpho Nawa and some members of the provincial legislature, were sent to the area to campaign for the party.
“People who carried guns could have been the from the VIP protection services because there were speakers and members of the legislature there.
“The campaign was successful but one man from the community grabbed one of our female members, took off her ANC T-shirt and burnt it,” Kekana said.
Thabang Wesi, spokesperson for the Greater Westonaria Concerned Residents’ Association, said he and other leaders were not aware that residents intended to stage a protest.
“According to the information we have gathered, residents learnt about the ANC’s planned campaign through social media networks.
“They then decided to take to the streets because they are still demanding an apology from Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane over the remarks she made during last year’s protests about the ANC not wanting our dirty votes,” Wesi said.
He accused the ANC of instigating violence in the township.
“ANC officials are arrogant and think that they own everyone who resides in South Africa,” Wesi added.
In response, Gauteng Economic Development MEC Eric Xayiya defended officials who were entering the area, saying that there was “no such a thing as a no-go area”.
“We will go into this area and interact with the community in a bid to find out from them as what it is that is troubling them,”
He blamed opposition parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and Azanian People’s Organisation for the unrest in the area.
“Children being taken out of schools to take part in protests is a serious concern.
“We would like to urge parents to also take charge of their childrens’ education by saying no to groups who are trying to destabilise the community,” Xayiya added.
While some pupils supported the protest action, others were more concerned about the school time that was being lost, with the mid-year examinations looming.