NELSON MANDELA BAY
Residents of Rocklands: ‘Protesting is the only way the municipality will hear us’
A community leader says that four years of empty promises lie behind violent service delivery protests in Rocklands that saw 6km of electricity infrastructure destroyed. But he has distanced the community from a violent attack on a farm and stock theft in the area.
Four years of empty promises are behind the violent protests that flared up in Rocklands, Nelson Mandela Bay, in the past two months. Protesters say this was the only way they could get the municipality to hear them.
Luyanda Manyamu, the deputy development committee chairperson for the area, said they protested to get basic service delivery.
But farmer Tania Steyn said that before the most recent protests farmers were told to pay R30,000 to avoid further violence. Steyn is a member of a committee that is searching for viable solutions to the stand-off.
“For the past four years, we’ve been receiving empty promises when it comes to service delivery. We want sites for RDP houses to be built, we want electricity. We also want water and toilets,” Manyamu said.
Residents must walk 5km to the nearest tap and use the bushes on nearby farms for their ablutions. Their rubbish is dumped on nearby farmlands.
On 28 July at about 11pm, Rocklands Road was closed and police from the Public Order Policing unit were sent to the area after vehicles were stoned, a truck and a car were set alight and farms were attacked. The store on Nuweplaas, where farmer Francois Blom lives, was set alight. A school bus was burnt out and the children were chased into the bushes.
Electricity poles along a 6km stretch of the road were cut down, causing a power blackout in the area. The electricity is yet to be restored.
The road was closed again by the police on 1 August after rubble and poles were placed on it.
Manyamu said: “For years we have been patient and made our genuine calls to the municipality to treat us like humans and there was no one attending to us. The community has bottled all of that up and exploded. The polite approach … was not working for us. We feel that protesting is the only way they will hear us.
“We distracted the farmers deliberately because we believe an injury to one is an injury to all, they must also feel how difficult life is without electricity… their voice is louder than ours. They will be able to put pressure on the municipality to attend to our grievances. We have nothing against them, but we notice that our municipality is giving them preference and treats us worse than refugees.”
During the four days of protests in late July, residents hacked down electricity poles that supplied neighbouring Rocklands farms with power. The installation of a new transformer was halted after threats of violence by small and medium-sized businesses in the area, and two weeks later the farms are still without electricity.
In June, during another violent bout of protests in the area, Nkosinathi Lukas was killed when a concrete electricity pole fell on him while protesters were digging it up to use as a barricade on Rocklands Road. During that protest, a councillor’s house and three vehicles were torched in KwaNobuhle.
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‘Crammed like sardines’
“We have 2,650 shacks on 957 sites that were meant for RDP houses. We are crammed like sardines in these sites,” said Manyamu.
“Luckily, there is a piece of land in Dubai [Area 11, Phase Four] for 160 units. We want the municipality to relocate 160 shacks from this stressed Phase Two to Dubai. There is also another piece of serviced land in Phase Three. The municipality promised to meet us last week Wednesday to discuss relocation, but they postponed the meeting until further notice.
“We want some people to occupy the empty temporary relocation units that were meant to de-densify informal settlements at the height of Covid-19. All we want is to be relocated to serviced plots because our conditions are heartbreaking and unbearable as we are forced to use a bucket to relieve ourselves and carry out those buckets at night and dump them in the field or the stormwater drain. We want to be allowed to lead decent lives.
“We are happy [that] after we took to the street and spoke their [the municipality’s] language, they understood the protest and they heard our cry and delivered electricity poles. We are happy with the poles, but we don’t want poles only, we want electricity. Our SMMEs need to benefit when they are installing those poles, including when they are cleaning burnt poles along Rocklands Road.”
But Manyamu said they were not part of the group that attacked Nuweplaas and stole livestock.
“As the committee that was leading the protest, we are distancing ourselves and condemning the thuggery of people who were not part of us who set alight the farmhouse and allegedly stole livestock. Ours was to demonstrate on the road for your voice to be heard.”
Following the violent protests, the farmers and other community members in the Rocklands area created the Rocklands Steering Committee to find a way forward for everyone.
The chairperson of the committee, farmer and attorney Themba Nkhola, said they wanted to help the community to get their voices heard in a non-violent way. DM/MC