Kenton on fire, again

PROTESTING: Ekuphumleni residents took to throwing stones at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets at the R72 Kenton intersection this morning. The Department of Human Settlements, that has not paid the main contractor RuCon for the building of RDP houses since November last year, has been conspicuously absent during the protests. Residents protested on Wednesday last week but were promised payment by last Friday. This did not happen and so protests began again this morning.

POLICE have acknowledged that a petrol bomb lobbed through the window of a home in Merry Hill on Monday may have been thrown by protestors angry at the Department of Human Settlements for not having paid the contractors working on the RDP housing development at Ekuphumleni, Kenton-on-Sea.

An elderly man and two young women who were in the house at the time had to put out the subsequent blaze. The elderly man sustained burns to his hands and face as he attempted to throw out cushions and a mattress that had caught fire.

A neighbour, Charissa King, posted photos of the fire damage on Facebook and told TotT what had happened.

“Our friend and neighbour was at home with my daughter, parents, husband and uncle and all of a sudden she runs out and screams the house next door is on fire! They [the arsonists] came right into the bush and stood by the fence, they first throw a brick into the bedroom window followed by the petrol bomb,” King said.

King said that after the elderly man had been seen to by police and ambulance services that had been called to the scene, two more petrol bombs were hurled over the fence of a neighbour’s house, but landed in the yard and were extinguished with sand.

“The location is right opposite the Merry Hill Complex and I think we were an easy target to take their frustrations out on,” King said. “Personally I am very upset and angry that innocent people got hurt and private property got damaged for no reason at all. Who is going to be held responsible for theses damages?”

Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender confirmed the incident at the Merry Hill house was being investigated, but said no other incidents of petrol bombs had been reported.

Monday’s protest was a sequel to a blockade on the R72 last Wednesday, when the national road was closed for over half a day as tyres burned in the road and some protestors threw rocks at passing vehicles.

This time Public Order Police (POP) arrived the night before the protest was due to start – word having being spread early on social media – and prevented the demonstrators from blocking the R72.

Last week’s protest action was suspended when the Department of Human Settlements agreed to pay all outstanding monies by Friday December 13. However, no money was received and, over last weekend residents came together to reignite the protest.

By 6am on Monday morning residents were already burning tyres and pallets in the main road to Ekuphumleni. About 20 to 30 armed police stood in vigil at the entrance to the R72. Some officers were dispatched into Ekuphumleni to deal with protestors, many of them children and teens, who were still throwing stones over the fence that divides the township from the R72. Many residents were hit by rubber rounds but defiantly continued their protest.

Several charges toward the R72 were made by the residents, but each was met by opposing police forces that sent the protestors running deeper into the township.

The smells of gunpowder, and smoke from burning tyres and wood were thick in places, but traffic was allowed through and, unlike the protest last Wednesday, there were no reports of broken car windows through stone-throwing.

Some Ekuphumleni residents complained that police were running into houses and tackling perceived protest agitators. Several school-going-age children, some under the age of 10, were apparently hit by rubber pellets during the protest, and their parents complained bitterly to the police about the use of violence. Police asked why the children were there in the first place.

Kenton residents have had many issues with Ndlambe Municipality or other government organisations for a number of years. These include being promised RDP houses since 1996, a lack of service delivery and the R7-million allocated to upgrade the sports fields being taken away. Some protestors believe that some of these issues may have been a response to the ward having voted in an independent councillor, Zache Ngxingo, in 2011, while others feel that they have simply been overlooked and forgotten.

“Even Marselle [a township next to Kenton] has better facilities than Ekuphumleni,” said the ward’s current ANC councillor Ayanda Nqosha.

As for the promised 560 RDP houses due for construction, only 75 have been completed and handed over, and controversy still surrounds the allocation of the houses.

Following a lot of Facebook chatter, Port Alfred station commander, Colonel Lizette Zeelie, wrote a WhatsApp message on Monday evening stating that outstanding payment had been made and that work will now continue on the construction of the remaining 485 RDP houses.

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