Residents protest over lack of housing, service delivery
RESIDENTS are demanding housing while also complaining about the blocking of their electricity and poor service delivery in one of the worst protest actions ever held in the area.
Breidbach, Acorn Valley and Qalashe communities got together and shut down the area, including the N2 between East London and King William’s Town.
They want Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality (BCMM) to fulfill their promises made last year to build houses, which according to them is long overdue.
In the early hours of Monday morning, hundreds of protesters barricaded the Breidbach bridge, which is the only entrance leading to the community, with burning tyres, rubble, stones and tree branches, making it extremely difficult for anyone to enter or leave the area.
Acorn Valley residents also blocked their entrance road, which also leads to neighbouring Qalashe.
Public Order Police members used rubber bullets, teargas and a water cannon to disperse the crowds after it reached a boiling point with protesters throwing stones and objects.
There were incidents in which the ward councillor’s vehicle was smashed in Acorn Valley, a house in Qalashe was demolished and protesters were wounded after being shot.
A total of six people were arrested and detained at the King police holding cells for public violence. They were released on warning the following day.
Four people were rushed to hospital after three were shot in the eyes and one sustained a broken leg.
“We decided to take our grievances to the streets because this seems the only language our government understands as there is still no development in our area, despite having staged a similar protest action exactly a year ago,” one of the residents, Gabriel “Gabs” Fourie, said.
Breidbach community leader and co-organiser Jenna Ohlson said they had been battling with the housing issue for more than 20 years.
“We have been struggling for RDP houses since 1996. Our ward councilors have been doing absolutely nothing for our community and, as you can see, our people are protesting and they are not planning to stop until they get answers,” Ohlson said.
BCMM Ward 44 councillor Sixolisiwe Ntsasela said: “We went to the community and explained to them about housing issue, that it is because of the land belonging to the province which still needs to be transferred to BCMM.
“There are three categories of houses that will be built, namely, for those who do not qualify for bonds, those who qualify for RDP houses and those evicted by the defunct King William’s Town Housing Association, so we are still waiting for the process.”
Acting BCMM mayor Helen Neale-May told the protesters that feedback on their demands would be given on Friday, which didn’t sit well as their response was that they would continue with the protest until Friday.
The local clinic was closed for two days and the few learners from both schools were sent home.
Breidbach Action Committee chairman Branton Jonas said: “We support the current struggle of our people to acquire houses and to challenge the unilateral imposition of electricity blockages to the detriment of the people of Breidbach and our communities within BCMM in general.
“As an active committee fighting for free basic education and transformation of the education system in general, we appreciate the unity and determination of our people and we call on the honourable premier and the MEC for human settlements to urgently intervene in the current impasse in ensuring that our people’s calls for housing and fairness are met.”
Protest action continued on Tuesday. At a meeting in the evening, Jonas told the residents as leaders they had met with BCMM officials, where it was decided that chief whip Mzwandile Vaaiboom would directly deal with their situation.