Protests remain constrained, contained

CONTAINED: Around 30 members of the EFF Student Command and some supporters march in High Street, Makhanda, around 2.30pm on Monday March 20, amid a strong police presence. Picture: SUE MACLENNAN


An early morning burning barricade on the R72 opposite Kenton-on-Sea’s main entrance was the main report of destructive protest during the EFF’s planned shutdown on Monday March 20. Several shops in Port Alfred and Makhanda remained closed, for fear of vandalism and looting; however, with private security companies Multi, Sky Alarms and Hi-Tec, along with community policing forums and the South African Police Service out in full force, many businesses in both towns opted for business as usual.

“Are they coming back?” a worried street vendor in Makhanda asked our reporter there around 2.30pm on Monday.

She was among a flurry of informal traders and formal businesses whose owners and managers hurriedly packed up and stashed their goods, or switched off the lights and ushered staff on to the street to blend with the public and hopefully go unnoticed. Eyes darted anxiously down High Street towards the Cathedral as a group of around 30 EFF supporters approached, singing as they made their way back towards the Drostdy Arch that marks the boundary between Rhodes University and the town.

Earlier, EFF Student Command members and supporters had walked to Makhanda’s traditional gathering point for protesters, Soccer City, in Raglan Road. There they had met up with youngsters – many of them young children – and proceeded to return to town. The group was escorted by the Traffic Department, South African Police Service and Makhanda Community Policing Forum. No reports of damage, harassment or intimidation were received, according to security sources.

In Port Alfred a group of around 30 gathered near the entrance of Nemato township shortly after midday later dwindled to 10; however, no protesters made their way into the Port Alfred CBD.

Port Alfred’s CBD was eerily quiet from sunrise, with a few pedestrians on their way to work  and joggers making up most of the early morning traffic. Schools were closed anyway because of the Human Rights Day public holiday on Tuesday.

Port Alfred Business and Tourism Forum chairperson Clinton Millard said it was not actual disruption that had dented the day’s trading for local businesses. Rather it was the threat of damage that forced some businesses to close.

“The protests were well controlled and there was nothing that really stood out from a security point of view: there was no damage to property.

“Those businesses that stayed open had a normal day’s trading; those who didn’t lost out on the day. It particularly affects smaller businesses – especially because it’s a long weekend and there are a lot of events happening around the area,” Millard said. “Events such as the Kenton Wine Festival. It does hurt businesses that use events like that to carry them through the dry periods.

“But we managed to come through this unscathed and we look forward to making businesses stronger in Port Alfred.”

Taxis operated intermittently in Port Alfred, said deputy chair for Uncedo in Ndlambe, Ayanda Zoli.

“Some employees stayed off work,” Zoli told Talk of the Town.

However, no disturbances or disruptions had been reported and it had been a quiet morning. There had been very few taxis on the road with some owners opting to leave their taxis parked at home.

The intersection of the R72 and R43 opposite the entrance to Kenton-on-Sea was blocked with a barricade of burning tyres around sunrise; however, public order police removed the barricade and the road was open shortly after 7am.

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From early Monday morning, a large contingent from the South African Police Service stood ready at Makhanda’s traditional gathering spot for protests, Soccer City in Raglan Road.

A steady stream of people was heading into town along the usual pedestrian commuter routes between 7am and 8am.

As far as taxi operations were concerned, Uncedo’s Lungisa Sixaba, who heads the Makana Transport Forum, said it was business as usual.

Sixaba spoke to Talk of the Town at one of the taxi associations’ monitoring points around 8am.

“So far it’s business as usual,” Sixaba said. “We don’t know how things will be later, but for now it’s quiet.”

The two major taxi associations, Uncedo and Border Alliance Taxi Association (Bata) were working together closely to monitor the situation and manage the safety of drivers and commuters today, he said.

Station Commander of Grahamstown Police Station Colonel Mbulelo Pika, who was at the Raglan Road site, said there had been no incidents reported in the precinct.

Eastern Cape

The South African Police Service Management in the Eastern Cape expressed satisfaction with the manner in which the police on the ground had exercised their authority in ensuring peace and stability during the countrywide protests.

In a statement issued shortly after midday Monday, spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said, “This  atmosphere of stability must be  attributed to the strictest security measures put in place ahead of the national shutdown. The integration of law enforcement agencies has been deployed in various parts of the Province in order to prevent any possibility of criminal activities which could arise during the protest actions.”

Naidu said that on the eve of the protest marches, groups some parts of the Eastern Cape had burnt tyres and put rubble on the roads.

“Their plans were frustrated by the alert police who were ready to stop their actions,” Naidu said. “All the national roads, highways and byways including business properties are operating well and without any serious incidents reported.

“The SAPS is confident that the people of Eastern Cape including their property remain protected and safe.”

Naidu said there had been isolated incidents such as in Mdantsane in the early morning.

“[These] were perpetrated by a few individuals who could not [be associated] with known organisations. When the police arrived in those areas, the opportunistic criminal elements disappeared and they never resurfaced.”

SAPS Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Nomthetheleli Mene again warned against acts of criminality and unruly behaviour.

“As the police we recognise the right of the people to protest as enshrined in the constitution, but if this right is abused and infringes on the rights of others, as security forces, we are obligated to act and act decisively against such elements. So far, I can confidently say we are in control of the situation, we have managed to drive away those who wanted to take advantage in the morning. There is calm as we speak and we continue to keep a close eye on the situation,” Lieutenant General Mene said.