Protest turns ugly and mayor snubs memorandum

Ntombi Mbomvu
Residents of Sobantu, Pietermaritzburg, try to hand over a memorandum to the mayor against the prepaid electricity system. Picture by Ntombi Mbomvu.
Ntombi Mbomvu

On Thursday, following protests at Sobantu in Pietermaritzburg on Monday police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse angry residents blocking road access to the township. This came after Msunduzi Municipality refused to accept the hand over of a memorandum from the residents.

The Sobantu community is demanding that the prepaid electricity system introduced in April last year as a pilot project be abolished. The system deducts 40% of electricity purchases to pay municipal arrears.

Msunduzi municipality spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said the residents were not allowed to hand over the memorandum because they were not permitted to do so. She said they did not complete the application process to hold a march and that is why they were told to go home.

Asked when the mayor will avail himself to speak to the residents (something the residents have been demanding for the past week), she said it will happen only when the residents comply with the correct procedures.

“Once they follow and complete all the correct procedures for staging a march. The law enforcement, including the SAPS, is monitoring the situation as the residents are threatening to block the N3,” said Madonda.

She said marchers were given the opportunity to hand over their memorandum to the SAPS as the mayor was engaged in other council business, but they refused. On Monday, the mayor was said to be “out of town”.

Police used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Sobantu. Picture by Ntombi Mbomvu.

Hundreds of residents, including residents who were either prevented from going to work or who took off work, started by burning tyres in the early hours of the morning before marching to the city hall.

Nhlanhla Khanyile, a resident who was at the march, said he missed going to work to be part of the march. “We want them to stop the prepaid system they introduced last year because it is exploitation,” said Khanyile.

While residents waited outside the city hall, they sang insulting songs about the municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi.

“This is not the end, we don’t care even if they send soldiers to shoot at us,” said Nombuso Majola. “They have sent police to shoot at us. We are going to turn Sobantu into Marikana. They don’t care about our needs. The mayor failed to come to us and receive the memorandum because we are nothing. We will fight until we get what we want. Why are the police shooting at us? We are not fighting with anyone, but we are fighting for our rights as residents.”

After residents were dispersed by police, they continued to the Sobantu community hall to continue discussing the matter.

Pastor Josiah Mcambi from Uniting Presbyterian Church in South Africa said all they want is peace. “People have been complaining about this electricity system since the time it was introduced. As religious leaders, it is also our duty to pray upon these issues. We are sad that the mayor did not speak to us. We wanted to say something to him as religious leaders.”

Residents of Sobantu, Pietermaritzburg, try to hand over a memorandum to the mayor against the prepaid electricity system. Picture by Ntombi Mbomvu.

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