FIERY PROTEST BLOCKS N2 NEAR BUTTERWORTH
End of strike against Amathole does little to pacify residents
Butterworth CBD was shuttered like a ghost town but out in the townships and along the national road police and community protesters were engaged in running battles.
Stones were thrown, some at traffic, and rubber bullets fired.
At the heart of the upheaval is lack of water.
The end of a strike against Amathole district municipality, which is supposed to supply six local municipalities with water, did little to lower the public temperature.
The N2 freeway was deserted. Tyres burned and the wide main road was strewn with wood, stones and other debris.
The town’s taxi fleet was at a standstill.
Hawkers sat in the sun, their wares packed away.
A similar water protest across the Amatole mountains closed the R63 between Alice and Fort Beaufort.
The barricades went up just hours after Samwu, Imatu and ADM cut a deal and the unions called off their protracted strike.
The only sign of life in Butterworth at midday was at the magistrate’s court, where 16 township and village protesters were appearing on charges of public violence. They were arrested on Monday night. The 16 received a hero’s welcome from a crowd of 150 and were released on warning.
Their attorney, Msimelelo Qumntu, said a condition of their release was that they did not join the protest.
Community leaders and attorneys belonging to the Butterworth regional attorneys association addressed the crowd.
Qumntu, speaking for the association, said they were representing the 16 for free (pro bono) because the attorneys fully supported the struggle for water in the area.
Qumntu urged the protesters to remain non-violent.
“As the association we support the protests, but condemn all criminal elements associated with them. This situation is crippling all of us, as we have been crying for decent water services since 2016.
“This has nothing to do with the ADM strike, but is an ongoing response to the deprivation of basic services to all of us. Industries are closing; there is not a single car wash business here in town. They have all closed down, and schools have also been affected.”
Community leader Saziso Peter said the town and surrounds had been without water for over four months.
“It stinks here; children are getting sick, people are getting sick because they drink the same water as animals, while many businesses have been forced to close down.”
Peter said protesters had been shot with rubber bullets on Monday and that several had been injured during the fracas with police. “We are currently experiencing brutal force from police officers with teargas and rubber bullets.”
The strike might be over, but the Butterworth community would continue protesting “until a proper decent water services is a reality” he said.
Butterworth police spokesperson Captain Jackson Manaha confirmed that a number of vehicles, including those belonging to police, had been pelted with stones, including his own state vehicle.
Violent behaviour in six Butterworth townships – Cuba, Msobomvu, Bika, Zizamele, Mchubakazi and Vulli Valley – led to the arrest of the 16, he said.
In a memo dated August 13, Walter Sisulu University vicechancellor Professor Rob Midgley shut and cleared the Butterworth campus as a result of the water crisis and ongoing violent protests.
“Community members are now encouraging students to join their protest and are destroying the university’s water supply system.
“Police have not been able to control or curtail the damage,” Midgley said.
Drought has hit Mnquma local municipality harder than most areas.
But recent violent protests, in local municipalities under ADM, including in Ngqushwa, Raymond Mhlaba and in Mnquma, were sparked by the ADM labour strike, with some areas claiming “sabotage” by striking workers who had been accused of deliberately switching off the water supply.
On Tuesday, ADM spokesperson Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso confirmed that they agreed to pay workers a 6.5% increment and the 2.5% salary progression. The unions consulted with membership and agreed.
The ANC’s provincial head of communications, Gift Ngqondi, said the party was “gravely concerned” at the way the protests had inconvenienced residents and visitors alike.
BLOCKADE: Angry protesters prevent vehicles from entering Butterworth from the Centane side, near Msobomvu township, by burning tyres and placing rocks on the road.