Looting and xenophobic attacks are the biggest concerns expressed by organisers of the mass action in Newcastle on Friday, reports Newcastle Advertiser.
Mdu Mnisi, the businessman who is coordinating the protest, advised businesses to remain closed and foreigners to stay out of sight until protesters disperse, for their own safety.
He said the shutdown of Newcastle was an initiative that would benefit everybody. Mnisi added the municipality was “abusing everybody with these high rates and tariffs”, and called on residents to stand together in protest.
“I condemn any violence and there will be police presence, but I am not in a position to control all the people who will be marching tomorrow. There was no mercy from the municipality when it started charging us these ridiculous rates, nor was there any concern for the people who cannot afford to pay,” he added.
More than 50,000 protesters are expected on Newcastle’s streets today, according to Mnisi. Asked about the safety of schools and hospitals, Mnisi said hospitals were not being targeted, but advised learners – who needed to be at school to write exams – to find a place to spend the night close to their schools, as commuters would be denied access to the CBD.
Friday’s action follows Newcastle mayor Ntuthuko Mahlaba failing to find the time to address the memorandum handed in at the municipality last week.
Last Friday, protesters marched to ‘Dubai’ (the municipal building), demanding high rates and tariffs, as well as the newly implemented parking meter system, to be reviewed. These have been called unaffordable for residents. Some residents complained the increases forced them to choose between paying the municipality or feeding their families.
Despite assurances from deputy mayor Reuben Molelekoa and speaker Samukelisiwe Yende that ratepayers’ concerns would be addressed today, a notice was issued on Cllr Mahlaba’s behalf yesterday indicating the mayor had already committed to other meetings and would only be available to address the community on Tuesday.
Mnisi called the mayor’s response “arrogant”: “Dr Mahlaba’s response in the media is a poor one. He is shunning away. The mayor is a doctor and can afford to pay the increases in his municipal bill. Where will pensioners get that money? We are not saying it is the mayor who abused municipal funds. He was not there when the money was stolen, but we are saying there must be an investigation.
“Let government come on board and assist to resolve the issues at the municipality, instead of pushing the financial burden onto the citizens and forcing us to pay for the crimes of the people who stole from the municipality.”
Today, supporters of Mnisi’s efforts collected rocks, trees and tyres, which will be used to block entrances to Newcastle from 3am on Friday morning.
“Having the municipality address the concerns about high rates and tariffs is an urgent issue. We were behind the mayor 100%, but when we get these crazy bills we can’t understand, we expect him to make an attempt to meet us halfway,” explained Mnisi.
“Tomorrow, the residents from Madadeni, oSizweni, and KwaMathukuza will be joining us in Newcastle West to ensure every entrance to the town is closed. The mayor needs to stop his stubbornness.”
While there will be no action over the weekend, protests are expected to resume on Monday if the municipality still hasn’t addressed the issues that were raised.
Despite the cold, protesters appeared to be in high spirits while Mnisi committed to keeping the march peaceful.
En route to Amcor Dam, protesters claimed they were threatened at gunpoint by a motorist, who demanded they get off the road. A short while later, riot police were deployed to the scene, reportedly to control the situation.
A journalist at the protest scene has confirmed a stun grenade has been thrown by a police official. Protesters are complaining their fires are being put out by authorities.
A local emergency WhatsApp group forwarded a message reportedly sent by a security company, indicating the following:
- Blue municipal skip bins have been pushed onto the street on Kirkland Street in the CBD
- The Amcor Dam route has been closed off and SAPS is on scene
- N11 north is all clear
- HJ van Eck/ Allen is closed by protesters and SAPS is on scene
- N11 south (casino entrance) is completely closed
- R34 Memel Road is clear
- Trim Park is clear – no vehicles