In the early morning there were rubber bullets, thrown rocks and vandalised traffic lights. By midday it had become a desultory affair, with soccer games in the street and bored riot police seeking out shade. But the anger, in this township that epitomises the economic divide, remained palatable.
Themb’elihle is a small informal settlement with shacks, dirt roads and – crucially – no electricity. Some people have rigged up illegal connections to the grid, but these are removed every so often. That is the major cause for complaint by residents, though their list of demands also includes proper sanitation and formal houses.
“These councillors, we vote for them and then they move into nice houses,” one woman said. “They go away, then we ask them to help us, and they make promises, but they do nothing.”
Early on Monday morning that frustration broke out in the streets again, with protesters hurling rocks at passing motorists on Klipspruit Valley Road, which separates the township from Lenasia proper, where brick houses line neat streets. Police intervened, and in the ensuing melee one police officer and one 11-year-old were injured, with several others hit by rubber bullets.
By early afternoon the road remained closed, and residents insisted that it would remain so until their councillor came to address them. “They know they’ll have to come to us,” one man told us. “We’re crazy. We’ll sleep here. They’ll have to come.”
An offer a meeting at a nearby police station didn’t go down well.
Though protesters are leery of supplying their names, they were happy to talk to the media and share their thinking, but they couldn’t exactly agree on what they would accept to end the standoff, or how they will react at the polls in future. Some burned ANC posters and vowed to vote for the Democratic Alliance in the next round of local government elections, saying they had seen DA municipalities take better care of citizens. Others wanted President Jacob Zuma to come see their living conditions, saying the ANC would help them if only it saw their plight. Some said that they’d return home if they received solid promises of action, others said they’d had enough of empty promises.
Lenasia residents expressed faith in the ability of the police to keep the remaining crowd of some 400 people from damaging their property, but said they lived in fear of day-to-day crime from their poorer neighbours. Few were in favour of improving conditions in Themb’elihle, though, recommending instead that its residents should be moved elsewhere. DM
Photos: Phillip de Wet for iMaverick.
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