Election safety paramount, says SAPS

Police, assisted by private security companies and community patrol groups moved quickly to clear a burning barricade from the R343 outside Ekuphumleni, Kenton-on-Sea early this morning, Monday May 27. With all leave cancelled and reservists called in to boost police at every level, the police have warned that they are taking a hard line against unlawful behaviour in the runup to Wednesday’s election.

Ndlambe communities have been using politicians’ increased visibility during their campaigning to make themselves heard; however police have warned that they are taking a hard line against unlawful behaviour – a warning that seems to be borne out by their quick response to blockades of the R72 and R343 this morning. However, the main road into Ekuphumleni remained blocked by protesters for several hours.

The past few weeks have seen several community protests by residents of informal settlements in Alexandria, ekuPhumleni, Marselle and Klipfontein. In covering the protests, Talk of the Town has spoken to a variety of sources including community members on site, the police and municipal officials.

Two weeks ago, the R72 between Port Alfred and Alexandria was closed to traffic for long periods on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as community members from, successively, Alexandria, Kenton-on-Sea and Bushmans RIver gathered on the R72, burning tyres.

From before dawn on Wednesday May 15, WhatsApp traffic information-sharing groups reported a “volatile situation” as protesters burned tyres on the R72 east of Alexandria at the KwaNonqubela junction. Later, South African Police Service spokesperson Captain Marius McCarthy confirmed that a group of about 100 people was protesting and burning tyres at the corner of the R72 and A street, Alexandria.

“It is alleged that the protest is due to service delivery dissatisfaction. Police (POPS) is on the scene,” McCarthy said in response to Talk of the Town’s query.

A resident later said the protesters had made their way to Wentzelpark, where an IDP imbizo hosted by the mayor was scheduled to take place at 3pm. The protesters placed tyres in the road there.

Ndlambe Municipality postponed that imbizo and, not long afterwards, confirmed that all further imbizos scheduled would be postponed until after the May 29 election.

Protests in that area were renewed on Thursday at around 11am, with the R72 again blocked off at the kwaNonqubela junction east of Alexandria. The Mayor and senior Ndlambe officials went there to speak to residents who say they were frustrated with lack of service delivery.

Before dawn on Friday, WhatsApp groups reported that protesters on the R72 outside Marselle were burning tyres and had stopped a truck. Traffic was diverted down the R343 towards Salem.

By 10.30am on Friday, there were “kilometres and kilometres” of vehicles waiting to get through and the public order policing unit (POPS) was on the scene.

“The road is currently impassable,” sources at the scene reported. “Bushmans, Marselle and Klipfontein – residents have completely closed off the R72 at those three intersections.

“At the moment, it’s peaceful: people are just frustrated. There hasn’t been violence in any form – people are just frustrated,” said a community leader from Klipfontein.

Kenton/Bushmans Night Watch coordinator Ferenc Toth confirmed that there had been no violence – “just burning of tyres and a lot of people”.

‘Bring Human Settlements here’

Community leaders then met with the mayor, municipal manager and Speaker. They demanded that an official from the Department of Human Settlements in Bhisho come and address them.

Following these discussions, community members agreed to stop the protest action. The road was cleared and reopened to traffic from around midday.

A Marselle community leader on the scene told Talk of the Town, “People are protesting because they say the municipality is not doing the things they are supposed to do.”

“At New Rest and Nomzamo [informal settlements currently being formalised by Ndlambe Municipality in partnership with the Department of Human Settlements] they laid down sewerage pipes. But the job was not done properly so now they are digging them out and laying new pipes.

“[Community members] were told that when the [instalment of basic infrastructure] was 70% complete, houses would follow. They were hopeful when a second contractor arrived – but it turned out that company was here to do sewerage and water [infrastructure] only and not houses.

“[They say that] in Kenton, in less than one year, houses were erected. But [here in Marselle] they have been waiting 28 years and they don’t have houses yet.

“In 96, they laid down a paved road, but because they didn’t put sewerage in, now they will have to dig up that road again.”

Across the road, at Klipfontein, another community leader spoke to residents. Their identities were kept anonymous, and we are likewise keeping that of our sources (community leaders) anonymous.

“We want houses, we’re not here to fight, we just want houses. The reason we’re doing this is that when we speak, people don’t hear us. We’re not going to leave until we get someone from [Human Settlements] in Bhisho here because Ndlambe isn’t doing anything. It’s enough now,” said one protester.

Another said: “We’ve been speaking to the officials from the municipality for about six months. They are fixing roads – but we didn’t say we want roads: we won’t be able to live on roads – we want houses… We’re tired of talking to them,. The only people who can help us is people from Bhisho. The officials sais there is a contract for housing. She is not to help with housing – she is here to help with roads and sewerage.

A third person said: “On 18 September they said that the housing would start,. To our surprise, the contract that started on the 18th was a different company, for pipes, for the third time – a different company doing the exact same thing. Instead of bricks, we’re getting pipes. We’re tired of speaking in a civil manner – when we talk politely they don’t listen: this is our only alternative. We want people from Bhisho, not Ndlambe. It’s been more than 25 years.”

A fourth protester said: “At Klipfontein we have been staying for a very long time. We don’t have electricity. Even Ndlambe, when they get something they give it to the location – Marselle. We get left behind because we stay near the sea. Oh, we are tired! We’re going to stay here until we get answers.”

Throwing a curve ball into the mix, a businessperson who operates in the Ndlambe area claimed the protests had the support of local contractors.

“They are giving contracts to out of town people,” said the person who is involved in the construction industry. “That’s why we are supporting these protests: they must give the work to locals.”

 ‘We will do everything in our power to protect all those who want to exercise their Constitutional right to vote’

As protests continue in other parts of the province, the government has assured citizens that the seventh National and Provincial Elections will be conducted in a safe and secure environment.

“As the government, we want to issue a stern warning to anyone with intentions to disrupt the elections that the law enforcement officers will deal with them decisively and will put them behind bars,” Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise said in a media briefing by the Justice, Crime Prevention, and Security (JCPS) Cluster.

“We want to assure the public of the readiness of the JCPS Cluster to execute its mandate of protecting the public, our country’s strategic installations and infrastructure during the election period. We will do everything in our power to protect all those who want to exercise their Constitutional right to vote,” the Minister said.

SAPS spokesperson Captain Marius McCarthy responded to questions from Talk of the Town about the security cluster’s capacity to ensure the safety of voters in small towns, such as those in Ndlambe, and rural areas. We asked whether continued protests would be permitted.

McCarthy said while people have a constitutional right to protest, this does not include unlawful behaviour.

“A protest is deemed not peaceful when it involves violence, destruction of property, or other forms of unlawful behaviour by protesters,” McCarthy said. McCarthy said a case of public violence had been opened in connection with last week’s R72 protests and that arrests of suspects was imminent.

Responding to concerns that most resources to secure voter safety would presumably be concentrated in larger centres, McCarthy said that in order to secure maximum available personpower during the elections, no Saps Member appointed in terms of the Police Act, Act 68 of 1995 would be granted vacation leave during this period; reservists had been called up for duties to strengthen personpower at local police stations; Public Order Police Units  would be strategically deployed around the district in support of local police stations.

“At national, provincial and district level, Joint Operational Centres have been established to monitor election related police activities,” McCarthy said.

Ndlambe Municipality responds

Talk of the Town asked Ndlambe Municipality the following questions:

  • According to the 2023/24 IDP, there are housing projects at Alexandria (1200 units), Marselle (500), Harmony Park (50), Cannon Rocks/ Boknes (100) under planning and Kenton on Sea (564) in progress. Are these projects on track for completion this year?
  • According to the IPD there are four housing projects in Alexandria  (a total of 1 605) requiring rectification. What are the estimated completion dates for these?
  • According to the IDP there is a 500-unit housing project for Marselle in pre-planning. Is this on track?
  • The IDP says (p127) that in 2009 Ndlambe Municipality lacked institutional capacity to effectively deliver housing. Has this situation changed, and if not, how is the municipality compensating for the lack of capacity?

Ndlambe Municipality responded via communications officer TK Mtiki as follows:

We are pleased to report positive progress on several fronts, particularly concerning the issues raised as catalysts for recent protests. In the Marselle area, significant strides have been made as evidenced by the presence of contractors actively engaged in infrastructure and road development—a tangible manifestation of our commitment to service delivery.

Furthermore, I am pleased to inform you that today, 22nd May 2024, our management team is revisiting Kenton residents to convey that Human Settlement has appointed a contractor for the project earmarked for their community.

While delays have been encountered, notably in Kenton, it’s imperative to highlight that these have largely stemmed from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes overseen by the Department of Environmental Affairs. Our role primarily involves facilitating submissions to the relevant authorities and ensuring strict adherence to all legal protocols. Regrettably, the approval timeline for EIAs spans a minimum of 18 months, contributing significantly to project delays in various areas. In Alexandria, for instance, similar delays persist due to EIA-related matters, where adherence to legal processes remains non-negotiable.

Nonetheless, progress is underway, exemplified by the ongoing rectification project in Alexandria, slated for completion by 2026. Similarly, areas like Ndokwenza grappling with electricity challenges are poised for resolution pending EIA approval.

We acknowledge the valid concerns of our residents and empathize with their expectations. However, we appeal for patience as we navigate the intricate landscape of regulatory compliance and endeavor to expedite service delivery within the confines of the law.

  • An earlier version of this article was first published in Talk of the Town, Thursday May 23, 2024. The newspaper serving the communities of Ndlambe and the Sunshine Coast, with a weekly wrap of Makhanda news, is available at stores from early on Thursdays.