A group of protesters loyal to criminally-charged eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede started regrouping in the Durban central business district after scuffles with police and several arrests just hours earlier.
Members of the media also got caught up in the scuffles between police and protesters, with one journalist being arrested and another manhandled.
The protesters had settled in Gugu Dlamini Park, near The Workshop, just before noon on Thursday and then started marching to the African National Congress (ANC) head office in the city.
They starting gathering illegally near city hall from late on Wednesday for a night vigil in support of the embattled mayor, who was supposed to officially return to work on Thursday until the ANC announced it had extended her leave.
By 7am on Thursday, the protesters – not numbering more than 100 – had blocked the intersection of Dr Pixley ka Seme Road (formerly West Street) and Dorothy Nyembe Str (formerly Gardiner Street) with concrete bins.
The number of protesters swelled and waned throughout the day.
Police had to close a large part of the central business precinct where the post office and US Consulate are based, as protesters parked a van in the middle of the intersection with loud hailers. Several of the supporters lay in the street while others danced and sang songs in support of Gumede.
Some nearby businesses did not open their shutters while others had security guards standing at the storefronts.
Municipal administrative staff were also barred from entering city hall and committee meetings were cancelled for the day.
Some of the protesters, visibly drunk, tried to stop African News Agency (ANA) from photographing before police intervened.
Later in the morning, officers tried to negotiate with the protesters, but those attempts failed.
A senior Metro Police officer told ANA that before they could begin dispersing the crowd, they needed to inform them of the likely action police might take.
“We need to negotiate with them first and allow them to inform their colleagues. Once this is done, we can proceed.”
Asked why the protesters were not moved earlier, the officer said they only became aware of the protest after 6am.
At first, the protesters were relatively calm as they were guided eastward on Dr Pixley ka Seme Road, however as they neared city hall’s administrative entrance, the movement halted. A few tense exchanges followed with protestors chanting in isiZulu what loosely translates to, “Bheki Cele call off your dogs”.
A stun grenade was deployed, but after dispersing, the protesters regrouped.
After what looked like further tense talks between protest leaders and the police, two more stun grenades were discharged into the crowd and police moved in to make arrests.
It is during several scuffles that one journalist from Independent Newspapers, Sihle Mavuso, was arrested and Siphamandla Goge from eNCA was manhandled.
Police confirmed that seven protesters were arrested for public violence.
Mavuso will be charged with common assault for allegedly punching a police officer. He was released later in the morning.
Shortly after Mavuso’s arrest, KwaZulu-Natal SAPS spokesperson, Brigadier Jay Naidoo, issued a statement addressed to journalists: “Please wear your media cards around your necks so that police officers cannot claim they did not know that you are journalists.”
The South African National Editors’ Forum on Thursday condemned the attack and manhandling of the two journalists allegedly at the hands of Metro police while they were covering the protes.
Police then escorted the remaining protesters through to Monty Naicker Road (formerly Pine Street) where they dispersed into the nearby bus stop and The Workshop shopping centre precinct.
Gumede was charged in mid-May along with senior ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu and businessman Craig Poonan for alleged tender fraud, corruption and racketeering relating to a 2016 Durban Solid Waste contract worth R208 million.
Several others were arrested two weeks before the trio’s appearance for their alleged roles in the same case. All of the accused were released on bail and will appear again in August.
It was alleged in court by the lead investigator in the case that Gumede influenced the awarding of tenders, ordered administration staff to break the law and organised a march against city manager, Sipho Nzuza, calling for his axing, because he refused to pay companies for the irregular contracts they had obtained.
– African News Agency