DRAMA mounted in Sterkspruit yesterday with police firing rubber bullets and community members allegedly pelting police with stones. Live ammunition was fired in the dark, too.
Some entrances to the town were barricaded with stones and logs.
The chaos started on Monday when residents marched through the streets. They had expected be addressed by Cooperative and Traditional Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi, but he did not show.
One of the residents’ demands is that Sterkspruit be moved from Senqu municipality and be given a standalone municipality.
The town was closed off the whole of Monday, with business estimating financial losses of R2-million for the day. Chaos continued after the march and well into the night.
There have been reports of a truck being set alight on the Zastron Road near Mokhesi village, just outside the town.
Shops and businesses have been looted and vandalised.
Police and residents of Mokhesi continue to play a cat-and-mouse game, with mostly youth standing on the hilltop overlooking the provincial road, throwing stones at police officers below.
Police fired rubber bullets at the stone-throwers .
Most of the tension and drama was in Mokhesi village, with people from other villages also blocking the road.
The Walaza Bridge, on the border between Eastern Cape and Free State, was closed, as was the road leading to Tele Bridge, which is the border gate between South Africa and Lesotho.
At about 7pm on Monday , police cleared the town of anyone loitering. They reportedly used rubber bullets, stun grenades and dyed water shot from a cannon to disperse and chase away people from the town.
At about 11pm on Monday shooting was heard at the bridge near Mokhesi. It was dark and unsafe for the Dispatch to venture closer. It was not immediately clear who was shooting.
Police set off a flare which momentarily lit up the sky.
Yesterday about 20 empty rifle and 9mm cartridges and dozens of rubber bullet cartridges could be seen on the road near where the shooting was heard the previous night.
It is understood police members were drawn from various units in Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, East London, Aliwal North, Queenstown and others areas.
The Sterkspruit Business Forum said they were now looking at appealing to a higher power for intervention.
“Minister Baloyi disappointed us. President Jacob Zuma must now intervene,” said forum secretary Lorraine Mokgatlha.
Baloyi had an all-night meeting with the Sterkspruit Civic Association (SCA) on Sunday night at the Sterkspruit Police Station.
He was reportedly meant to address the of residents on Monday . His spokesman, Mpho Lekgoro, told the Dispatch the meeting had been postponed to another day.
Yesterday Lekgoro said they would monitor the situation in Sterkspruit closely.
“But we have to wait until the next date of engagement between the minister and the affected parties. At the moment it is not clear when will be the next meeting where the parties are going to iron out the issues they need to iron out,” he said.
Eastern Cape police have warned Sterskpruit residents not to break the law during their protest actions.
“This comes after several incidents yesterday [Monday] when stone-throwing and blockading of roads took place. The SAPS subsequently arrested 37 protesters for public violence,” said Brigadier Marinda Mills in a statement.
She said that those arrested would appear at Sterskspruit Magistrate’s Court today.
“We cannot tolerate lawlessness and must protect the rights of all the people living in the town of Sterkspruit. This type of behaviour leaves the SA Police with no choice but to act and disperse groups of people violating the law. Our
Constitution provides for peaceful protests and we call on the community to abide by the law or risk been arrested,” said Mills.
She said the situation was under control with the deployment of a large contingency of Public Order Policing members conducting patrols and strategically placed to enable them to swiftly react to any acts of violence . — firstname.lastname@example.org