| JOHANNESBURG

Alexandra shut down as residents take to the streets

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Protesters complain about overcrowding and problems with water and electricity

Photo of burning tyres in road
Residents of Alexandra blocked the streets with burning tyres on Wednesday, demanding that Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, address them about their grievances. Photo: Zoe Postman
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Thousands of residents of Alexandra in Johannesburg shut down the township on Wednesday morning, demanding that Mayor Herman Mashaba address them on solutions to problems with overcrowding, water and electricity.

Residents started blockading streets in Alexandra with burning tyres and garbage at about 5am. Protesters marched down London road, moving towards the N3 highway, and ended up near the Marlboro Gautrain station where they expected to be addressed by Mashaba.

Mashaba sent Yao-Heng Michael Sun, Mayco Member for Public Safety, to address the crowd but they would not allow him to speak. They insisted on being addressed by Mashaba.

According to the 2011 census, about 180,000 people live in Alexandra. The township is close to Sandton, one of the most affluent suburbs in Johannesburg.

Protesters said Alexandra was being neglected and they would not vote in the upcoming elections if the City of Johannesburg did not address the issues they faced.

Resident Thabisile Ndaba, who was born in Alexandra and has lived there all her life, said the constant building of new shacks had resulted in overpopulation.

“When you open your window, there’s a new shack. When you open your door, there’s a new shack…We are not against any foreigners or fighting with anyone. We just want the City to stop the building of new shacks because this situation is out of hand. Some people are even building shacks on the pavements where people have to walk.” she said.

As a result of the overpopulation, Ndaba said, basic services such as water and electricity were stretched thin and the residents of Alexandra were suffering the consequences. She said the City should build more flats and houses so that people would stop erecting new shacks.

But another resident, Judy Makwana, said she wanted foreign nationals to leave the country because they were “taking jobs” from South Africans.

“We want our children to get work, that’s why I’m here. I’m fighting for my kids,” said Makwana.

She accused the City of treating immigrants better than South Africans and said she would not vote in the forthcoming elections.

She said immigrants “live in nice houses while our grannies live in one room shacks with five other people”.

In what became a debate amongst a small group of residents, another resident Kabelo Tsotetsi, defended immigrants, saying they were starting their own businesses and not taking jobs from South Africans.

Tsotetsi said: “Our government doesn’t make it easy for foreigners to live here, they don’t get help. They come from countries where they are severely oppressed and they come here and face the same struggles as us. We are all Africans fighting for our dignity.”

He said people should be looking to government for answers on why it had failed its people instead of finding reasons to blame each other.

On Tuesday, the ANC Alexandra branch said it supported the proposed mass action to force the DA-led City of Johannesburg to provide services for the residents of Alexandra.

Responding in a statement released on 3 April, Mashaba said the ANC was using legitimate community grievances for political gain ahead of the upcoming elections. He said he sympathised with the struggles of the residents and the multi-party municipal government had invested heavily in services to the community.

“This stands in stark contrast to the years of neglect the people of Alexandra endured under the ANC governments in Johannesburg. It is deeply ironic that the ANC have now used the legitimate grievances of the residents of Alexandra for their narrow political ends, inciting the crowd and creating further unrest,” said Mashaba in the statement.

Protesters said their protest would continue on Thursday as they waited for Mashaba to address them.

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