Klipspruit, Soweto: Blackout meets violence
On Wednesday night, residents of Klipspruit and surrounding areas embarked on a violent protest. It was sparked by the shortage of electricity in the area, which residents say has been ongoing for the past week. Several cars were burned in the protest, in which the Klipspruit Eskom base was attacked. By BHEKI C. SIMELANE.
Seven cars, some belonging to Eskom employees, were on Wednesday night burned beyond recognition by angry Klipspruit residents whose frustration at the shortage of electricity in the area had spilled over. Later, another eight cars were burned and several others damaged with bricks.
Soweto SAPS spokesperson Warrant Officer Kay Makhubela said 15 cars were burned in the violence, adding that a case of public violence and malicious damage to property had been opened. “Police are still investigating the incidents to confirm the identity of those individuals who were involved in the savagery so that they can be arrested. For now the situation is calm but we cannot predict if it will resume tonight,” Makhubela said on Thursday.
Around 1pm on Thursday, Makhubela, who was at the scene, said police would continue to monitor the situation and that no one had been arrested yet.
A resident of Nancefield hostel, where the trouble is said to have started, asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, but said they had been without electricity since last, the final week of June. “Many people run businesses inside the hostel, as many of us are unemployed, and [we] are now losing a lot of business. We have had no alternative except using up all the food that we kept in our refrigerators because it was getting spoiled,” he said.
Another hostel resident, 33-year-old Samkelo Dlodlo from Bergville in the KwaZulu Natal province, chipped in, “Government is undermining us because we live in this place. All government officials live in places far better than ours so they have no reason to care. It would have been a lot better if the burned and damaged cars had belonged to government officials.”
Dlodlo said government should avoid provoking them because they are a frustrated community with rampant unemployment and when they fight back, they fight hard and strong.
The problem, according to residents, started some time last week when the Pimville Eskom substation crumbled under demand. Eskom had responded and fixed the problem on that very same day but substation failed again a few hours later, leading to a series of blackouts that plunged surrounding areas, including the Nancefield hostel, into darkness.
Oliver, a man who identified himself only as a Rastafarian, said residents went on the offensive on Wednesday night, attacking passing cars with bricks. He said several cars were damaged in the violence that had begun just before 10pm on Wednesday night. Oliver said at one point a driver had escaped by the skin of his teeth – in the attack, his car ran over the bridge on Moroka Road and plunged into the Klipspruit River while the driver rushed to get away from the mob.
Road signs were felled; the newly laid paving on the sides of the road was removed as the bricks were being used as choice weapons against passing cars. A burned VW minibus was on the side of the road near where police kept watch, a clear sign of the violence that had taken place in the area on Wednesday night and again on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, near the Nancefield hostel, men, some with shields and sticks, gathered in small groups as they relived the violent incidents among themselves. These were men from the hostel itself, to which most or all of the violence is attributed. “I think even Orlando residents were here to help us last night,” said one of the men. It was clear from their conversations that they were not done yet.
The Nancefield hostel is still feared by many because of its links to acts of violence in the past, although the area has for a very long time remained calm – until now. An elderly woman, who took this reporter to where most police officers and some journalists were, was quick to say that I should be careful, as hostel dwellers were hostile to outsiders they could easily identify.
Stunned Eskom officials were still assessing the damage in their premises on Thursday afternoon as a brief debate broke out among them on whether all of the seven cars burned inside their premises had been insured. The small window of the guardhouse at the gate was partially smashed and the iron gate to the premises was also damaged as protesters had forced their entry. Burned tyres were spread all over the road.
Samkelo Shezi, 17, from KwaMashu in KZN, said he felt for the rapid system transit buses known as Rea Vaya, as they were a target on Thursday night. This was because of the bad blood between two factions (Rea Vaya and taxis) which had led to a string of attacks, allegedly by taxi drivers, and accompanied the launch of the bus rapid transit system a few years ago. “Luckily none of the buses showed up last night, but tonight [Thursday] I have a strong feeling that they will not be so lucky,” he said.
At about 6.30pm, Soweto SAPS's Makhubela said the situation was still calm. Asked if police would stay through the night, Makhubela said that they would keep an eye on the situation. “The situation is still calm, but we will continue to monitor it closely because a re-occurrence of the violence still cannot be predicted,” he said.
At 7pm, Nancefield hostel resident Sihle Dlamini from KwaMashu in KZN confirmed that the situation was still calm, but that there was a lot of movement, especially around the Nancefield hostel. “It is still a little quiet, but there is a lot of movement, especially around the hostel - but I think the movement is because of the meeting that has been called for a little later today,” Sihle said. He said he wasn’t sure of the specific time for which the meeting had been planned.
Asked if he was aware of the meeting, Makhubela said it was probably a meeting between the hostel’s headmen, Eskom and the area’s council, to give the community feedback on the address of the community’s electricity grievances.
The area’s local councillor was unreachable for comment and one of the hostels headmen, known only as Thisha, also couldn't be reached. Eskom, however, told media on Thursday that the electricity would be turned back on once the area was safe. DM
Photo: Police monitor the situation as a man walks past a burnt-out wreckage of a taxi allegedly set alight by residents protesting about the lack of electricity near the Nancefield hostel in Soweto on Thursday, 3 July 2014. Residents of Orlando East, Soweto allegedly damaged 22 cars at Eskom's Soweto depot, police said on Thursday. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee/SAPA