Demonstrators block R67 in protest over reservoir project omissions

Nemato residents protesting against the process that was followed in the awarding of a contact for a reservoir at Thornhill were stopped by police who fired teargas and rubber bullets when the crowd headed along Wharf Street towards the municipal offices on Tuesday.

DEMANDING MUNICIPAL RESPONSE: Nemato residents blockaded the R67 at the Nemato/Thornhill crossroads last Thursday to demand that Ndlambe Municipality form a steering committee which will protect local residents’ interests in a project to a reservoir at Thornhill Picture: TK MTIKI

The protest was a sequel to a road blockade at the Nemato/Thornhill crossroads on the R67 last Thursday, when residents first complained about the reservoir contract.

They accused Ndlambe Municipality of overlooking processes to include local people’s interests in the reservoir project, as no steering committee had been appointed regarding employment of locals and to monitor the project.

Demonstrators brought traffic to a standstill on the R67 last Thursday morning, causing many commuters to turn around and find another route to Bathurst or Makhanda.

When TotT arrived on the scene we found about 100 residents had blockaded the road carrying stones, turning vehicles back and threatening to throw stones at those showing no willingness to turn back. Some tyres were rolled into the road but were not set alight. Police were present to monitor the situation.

The Thursday road blockade only lasted about two hours, until a meeting followed at Titi Jonas Hall at which a steering committee was formed.

But there was another protest on the R67 on Tuesday which lasted half the day. This time tyres were set alight and the protestors eventually moved down Wharf Street where police responded with teargas and rubber bullets.

The renewed protest on Tuesday was apparently because the steering committee had been rejected.

EFF councillor Xolisa Runeli spoke on behalf of demonstrators last Thursday. “We are tired of companies exploiting our people. We are saying to outside companies. Our people need to benefit in their projects.”

Runeli said they wanted any project to benefit locals in terms of job, skills transfer and social responsibility.

Mamlambo Civil Construction was contracted to build the reservoir and had already started site establishment at Thornhill, next to the TiTi Jonas Hall.

Runeli did not only dissect the municipality’s mistake of overlooking procedures but further highlighted what he believed to be the right processes. “Before a company starts working, it must start by informing the community about what it will do, skills needed, number of employees needed so that community members can prepare themselves,” he said.

He added that the above mentioned processes must be done with the assistance of a steering committee. According to Runeli, the failure to form steering committees is what leads to local residents being left out of community projects.

Elaborating on steering committee’s role, he said its mandate is to protect the interests of the local people in making sure that the project is conducted thoroughly and fairly. Runeli attributed failure of previous projects to the exclusion of locals’ participation.

He also sees the absence of a steering committee as a loophole for hiring foreign nationals instead of locals. “We see outside people taking over what could be done by locals, just like what is happening at the police station extensions in Nemato, where Tewo Building and Civil Contractors brought in people who are foreign nationals, coming from East London”.

Backing up Runeli’s claim, Lundi Dyani said: “People are made to be bystanders in their own projects. We are calling the attention of our municipality who has neglected the processes. We know this is not how things should be resolved, but because they are ignorant of our feelings we resorted to this peaceful protest.”

Asked for comment, municipal Spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa said: “The Mamlambo Company has not started working on the site, what you see there is the site establishment. Any company that finds work in any area, part of their contract is site establishment. We have noted their concerns.”


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