South Africa

Westonaria mayhem: When the children hit the streets

By G Nicolson & T Lekgowa 25 October 2013

On Thursday, the Bekkersdal service delivery protests spread to other Westonaria townships. Residents complain the municipality has failed to provide services and jobs and the protest continues to intensify, with the death of a 20-year-old on Wednesday. THAPELO LEKGOWA & GREG NICOLSON visited Bekkersdal and Simunye to ask what was going on and why this protest featured so many children.

When Daily Maverick arrived in Bekkersdal, things were quiet. Streets were littered with rocks and barricades against police vehicles. A fire had been lit in the community centre. People milled on the streets but the skirmishes with police had momentarily ceased. The violence in Bekkersdal intensified during the day.

A woman and a child loot a store in Simunye. Photo by Greg Nicolson

But the protest has spread to nearby Simunye, we heard. Residents there had closed the streets and police were passing in nyalas, shooting rubber bullets and teargas. By centimeters, a Daily Maverick correspondent missed being hit with the balls from a teargas canister. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. But what was different about the protests was there, right in front of our eyes: children, so many of them.

A young boy passes through a flooded Bekkersdal community hall vandalised by protestors. Photo by Greg Nicolson

A 15-year-old girl, who did not want to be named, told Daily Maverick she was not happy with the protests in Bekkersdal. “Our region has begun with exams and we are missing out.” The girl was afraid she and her classmates would fail. “The protest has nothing to do with our exams. We are looking forward to leaving the grades we are in and choosing subjects for our grade 10, but as things stand now there will be nothing good for us as scholars. All I pray for is for them to let us write our exams in December as it will not happen now.”

Protestors loot a store in Simunye. Other looters at other stores threatened violence if we took their picture, but at this store the looters were not bothered. Photo by Greg Nicolson

“Themba”, a Simunye resident, said, “We are protesting because of lack of service delivery and there is a lot of nepotism and tribalism amongst the administration of the municipality.” He added: “The main demand is for the municipality to be head by young people as the old don’t understand us. We are, though, urging people not to break any property.”

Boys look at the burning community hall in Bekkersdal. Photo by Greg Nicolson

A 23-year-old who did not want his name published said there was a library but no books. The young man who was born in Bekkersdal wants to become writer but there isn’t even Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela’s biography or even a dictionary in the library. “Then you have people, our councillors, they don’t do anything. Bekkersdal was founded in 1945. Since 1945 Apartheid has come and gone. You can’t see much development.” Leaders come to make promises but never keep them, he said. There are too few sport activities available and the rubbish is rarely collected, he added. “We want to make the world green, but how can we make this green if we have no service?”