Shots were fired, tempers flared and comrade turned against comrade as tension was high in Bekkersdal near Westonaria, the scene of violent service-delivery protests. Buoyed by a potential visit by EFF leader, Julius Malema, young residents this week voiced their anger and frustration and took to the streets. By THAPELO LEKGOWA and BHEKI C. SIMELANE.
Expectations were running high as young residents marched, chanted, sang struggle songs and barricaded streets in the township with rocks and other debris this week.
Bekkersdal has been the scene of recent, ongoing violent clashes between police, community members and ANC members who would like to see the municipality disbanded.
But Malema’s much-anticipated visit was cancelled as the EFF leader was off writing exams. Instead, an EFF message of support was delivered by the party’s Gauteng spokesperson, Patrick Sindane.
Photo: Foreign-owned stock protected by police.
Addressing a large crowd, Sindane urged residents to “fight for water, electricity and housing, but most of all fight for the land where those will be placed. Nothing without the land,” he told those gathered.
The situation in Bekkersdal has been tense and volatile for some time and one community leader, Thabang Wesi, accused “foreign” shop owners of “colluding with the forces against the community” and of sponsoring these alleged forces with weapons used to attack leaders of the Bekkersdal Concerned Residents Association.
“These people [foreign shop owners] should leave our township, in fact they should leave our country,” Wetsi addressed the community. The statement followed an incident during which a Somali shop owner allegedly opened fire on protestors, fearing they would loot his shop.
As the meeting proceeded, reports were received that protesters had been shot at by Councillor Khaya “Miya” Ncele. Ncele denied the accusation.
“I don’t even own a gun,” Ncele told the Daily Maverick. “The last time I had a gun in my hand was in the year 2000, and since then I have never used a firearm. It was my colleague Mngomezulu who fired two warning shots with his legal firearm.”
Councillor Thabane Mngomezulu later arrived at the Bekkersdal police station wanting to clarify what had occurred and to talk to the media. He confirmed that he had fired two warning shots into the ground as a crowd approached him. He had gone to the police station, as the law required, to report the fact that he had discharged his legal firearm, he said.