22 May 2012

South Africa: Protesters Close Schools

A protest in Mfuleni over housing allocations disrupted teaching at eight schools and the closure of a shopping mall as protestors coerced learners into joining their march and threatened shop owners.

The protest, which gathered strength and school children, and later, shop workers from the Mfuleni shopping centre were coerced to join, resulted in tyres being burnt, some informal traders stalls being raided and rocks thrown at workers at the Nuwe-Begin housing project site.

Seven of the schools which had their premises invaded by the marchers were primary schools.

At the Mfuleni shopping centre the protestors demanded workers join their march against ward councillor Themba Honono whom they accused of selling positions on the beneficiary list for the 900-unit Nuwe-Begin housing project in the area.

Protestors said Honono must step down as councillor following the allegations of corruption leveled against him.

Starting at about 8am, the residents sang freedom songs and held placards disparaging Honono aloft as they went to schools in Mfuleni demanding the learners leave their classes and join the march.

While some learners said they enjoyed the excuse to have a day off, others especially those in Grade 12, complained about the disturbance saying they only had a week to go before their mid-year examinations began.

A Grade 12 student who gave her name as Unathi, said: "It is bad. One minute we are in class preparing for examination and the next minute community leaders are demanding that the school close.

"I don't support the protest because at the end of the day it is affecting me negatively."

By about 9am ten police vehicles were following the protestors, whose numbers had swelled to about 2 000 with the school children in tow, through the streets.

After forcing the closure of the shopping mall, residents vowed to continue to protest for the rest of the week if their concerns over the Nuwe-Begin housing project were not addressed.

Resident Thandazile Qave said if backyarders from Mfuleni did not receive houses while people outside Mfuleni did, then more houses would have to be built.

He said in the past residents had marched to highlight provincial legislature and handed over a memorandum of grievances to officials but their concerns had not yet been addressed.

Resident Themba George said at least 60% of the houses being built in Mfuleni should be allocated to people living in the area.

Housing MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela's spokesperson Bruce Oom said the protest was directed towards allegations of corruption on the part of the ward councillor and not directed toward the provincial housing authorities.

He said the department met with the community on Friday last week after protests and the community said they were likely to continue to protest and warned that construction at the site might be affected.

Oom said the residents were informed that any allegations or complaints against the councillor should be directed to the City Speaker and the province would do all it could to ensure work at the site was not disrupted.

Provincial police spokesperson November Filander said a group of 2 000 people marched on the streets of Mfuleni in a housing protest.

He said one person was arrested and charged with malicious damage to property and is due to appear in the Blue Downs Magistrate's Court today.

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