South Africa 24.10.2013 06:00 am

Bullets, petrol bombs as Bekkersdal erupts

The community of Bekkersdal takes to the streets during protest action, 23 October 2013. Residents took to the streets after failed service delivery negotiations. Picture: Refilwe Modise

The community of Bekkersdal takes to the streets during protest action, 23 October 2013. Residents took to the streets after failed service delivery negotiations. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Smoke shrouded Bekkersdal’s streets yesterday as two separate shooting incidents marked escalating violence in the West Rand town.

Tuesday’s talks between Gauteng local government and housing MEC Ntombi Mekgwe and community leaders, which failed to yield positive results, fuelled yesterday’s protests with disgruntled residents accusing the provincial government of being arrogant and not wanting to heed their demands.

Schooling and taxi operations in the violence-stricken area of Bekkersdal were brought to a complete standstill yesterday amid service delivery-related protests by increasingly angry community members.

The community of Bekkersdal takes to the streets during protest action, 23 October 2013. Residents took to the streets after failed service delivery negotiations. Picture: Refilwe Modise

The community of Bekkersdal takes to the streets during protest action, 23 October 2013. Residents took to the streets after failed service delivery negotiations. Picture: Refilwe Modise

As the violence flared again, a local councillor fired warning shots at angry residents who had tried to petrol bomb his home.

Thabani Mngomezulu, councillor for Ward 10, said he had fired two warning shots “into the ground” during an attempted petrol bombing. One petrol bomb landed in Mngomezulu’s yard, but caused no damage.

Residents had claimed the local municipality was guilty of mal-administration and nepotism by senior officials, including mayor Nonkoliso Tudzi.

As the unrest continued yesterday, a shop owner was arrested for firing at a mob, shooting a protester in his left leg. “We were moving past the tuckshop and the guy started shooting randomly,” 14-year old Sipho Modise told The Citizen while lying in the Bekkersdal West Clinic.

Outside the tuckshop, angry residents were shouting at police, calling on them to let them deal with the suspect – a foreign national – who was later removed by nine police officers. Police confirmed that an arrest had been made after a firearm and ammunition was recovered in the tuck shop, but no charge had yet been laid over the alleged shooting.

Protesters also vowed not to rest until all foreign nationals were taken out of their area. Ethiopian Abdul Abdela, who has lived in Bekkersdal for 14 years, said he fears for his life. “I have never experienced what I am seeing here today, but I support the local residents. They have a right to basic services,” he said.

A Bekkersdal community member walks passed burning tyres during protest, 23 October 2013. Residents took to the streets after failed service delivery negotiations. Picture: Refilwe Modise

A Bekkersdal community member walks passed burning tyres during protest, 23 October 2013. Residents took to the streets after failed service delivery negotiations. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Most of the streets in the area were barricaded with burning tyres and rocks by protesters, most of them schoolchildren.

One of the community leaders, Thabang Wesi, said they have intensified their protests, which he described as “Waya Waya”. “We will continue protesting until Westonaria Local Municipality is placed under administration. We will not be led by corrupt officials who are only thinking about themselves and couldn’t care less about the masses,” Wesi said.

Wesi said they will make sure that matriculants do not sit for the impending year-end final exams. “We are going to make this area ungovernable to the extent that businesses can’t operate until we get what we are demanding.”

Police officers were forced to fire rubber bullets at the protesters who damaged local municpal buildings.

Talks will continue tomorrow.

 

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