Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Tell the country this is war'

'Tell the country this is war'


Police spray protesters with dye outside a warehouse in Zamdela they intended to loot yesterday.
Image by: ALON SKUY

Co-operative Governance Minister Richard Baloyi was yesterday forced to call a halt to the municipal redemarcation that is the ostensible motive for the lethal violence and anarchy that has engulfed the Sasolburg area.

Such is the rage of the protesters, most them believed to be from the Sasolburg township of Zamdela, that hospital patients have had to be evacuated from the "war zone".
The protests have already left at least six people, including a young child, dead.
Two days after thousands of protesters went on the rampage, Baloyi arrived - surrounded by armed escorts - to make the announcement about the halting of the redemarcation on a local radio station.
But the Municipal Demarcation Board said only it could stop the process and that the proposal to incorporate Sasolburg into neighbouring Parys was still on the table.
"This is just one of about 200 proposals that the board has been looking into. We have a role to play by investigating each view and to decide if it is feasible to take the proposal forward," the board's chairman, Landiwe Mahlangu, said.
But Baloyi's spokesman, Nghamula Nkuna, said the process would be reconsidered.
"We will resolve this ... this is only at the proposal phase. Nothing has been cast in stone and any decision will be clarified to the community.
"The continuing violence, carried out by a criminal force, is condemned," he said.
For the third consecutive day, protesters tore through the Free State industrial town's streets, setting fire to buildings, cars and schools, and looting warehouses, spaza shops and bottle stores in an alcohol-fuelled frenzy.
The violence intensified yesterday morning when Free State Premier Ace Magashule failed to honour an undertaking to speak to a 5000-strong crowd at Moses Kotane Stadium, in Zamdela.
Slighted mobs then waged battles in the township's streets, besieging a police station, which they pelted with stones, overturning a police van and opening fire on officers trying to rescue stranded colleagues along with journalists, women and children who had sought shelter in the police station.
For nearly an hour, gun battles - with protesters erecting burning barricades to mask their movements - were waged on the streets as residents vented their anger.
They soon extended the expression of their anger and turned on journalists, paramedics, fire-fighters and anyone who had not joined them.
Even after Baloyi's announcement the protesters said that the violence would continue.
"This is not just about the demarcation ... this is a war that will not end until we have Ace's [Magashule] head on a stake outside our township," said protester Jakes Mahlangu.
"This is war ... you must tell the country this is war which will not end today or tomorrow ... it will not end until we get what we ask for ... our human rights, our dignity."
He said Baloyi's promise that he would consult the community was "too little, too late".
"We called for a discussion but we were ignored. We are still being ignored. They are just trying to please us with empty promises ... we have asked for delivery and we expect it, otherwise they know what to expect."
Free State ANC spokesman Oupa Khoabane admitted that there was a "gap in leadership to steer the community away" from the anarchy that prevailed in the area.
"But this is not about politics and those who are bringing up their political grievances are just taking advantage of the situation. The people here are fighting about a merger, not about the leadership," he said.
Mahlangu's warning was made as a Vaalpark Hospital high-care patient was airlifted to Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. Others were taken by road to surrounding hospitals. Nurses and doctors at Vaalpark Hospital were bracing themselves for an influx of people injured in the protest violence.
Jacques du Plessis, managing director of the hospital division of Netcare, said the decision to evacuate the Vaalpark patients was "made to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patients and staff".
A nurse, who did not want to be named, said: "Those who are not essential have been told for their own safety to go home, and those who are essential have been asked to volunteer their services here."
Paramedics were escorted by armed police to retrieve critically injured residents caught in the crossfire between police and gangs of thugs roaming the streets.
Those who could not be reached by ambulance crews were rushed in open bakkies to ambulances outside the township.
For three men, among five who had been shot, the drive was too long. The hysterical driver was too traumatised to give the police his name. "They just shot them. These thugs just shot them. Please God, help them. They have children," he cried as one of the wounded frantically tried to revive a dead friend.
Last night, police were dispatched to guard patients and staff at Metsimaholo Hospital.
Late in the evening, a community leader who asked not to be identified for his own safety said a seven year-old boy had been shot dead during an exchange of gunfire about an hour earlier. The child's death could not be immediately confirmed with police.
Free State provincial health spokesman Mondli Mvambi urged protesters not to interfere with doctors, nurses, hospitals and ambulance services but to view them as "life-saving institutions".
Police last night said a total of 283 people had been arrested since the violent protest started on Sunday.
'Tell the country this is war'

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