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Protesters target municipal offices

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“All cars were stopped leading into and out of Motswedimosa, and only teachers and pupils were allowed through”

VIOLENT protests erupted in Ritchie again yesterday, with protesters targeting the municipal offices, which were set alight.

Reports were received yesterday that the municipal offices were set alight and that the fire department was prevented from accessing the area.

The municipal building, which is situated in Motswedimosa but serves the whole of Ritchie, was badly damaged and videos are being circulated on social media showing smoke and flames billowing out of the roof of the building, while large rocks and boulders litter the road.

Residents also reported that the main road leading into the area was barricaded with rocks in the morning, preventing many of them from getting to work yesterday morning.

“All cars were stopped leading into and out of Motswedimosa, and only teachers and pupils were allowed through,” one resident stated.

She added, however, that pupils were sent home early and that schools were closed.

Chaos initially broke out at the end of September and it is believed that yesterday’s protest was as a result of the apparent failure by the Northern Cape Premier, Dr Zamani Saul, to address the residents’ complaints.

Among the issues raised in a memorandum addressed to Saul are the delivery of proper houses, the paving of roads, the electrification of all informal settlements, the completion of the eradication of bucket toilets project, an investigation into the bulk water system, the lack of recreation facilities and an investigation into a sidewalk project.

The residents also called for an investigation into the R13 million that was apparently allocated to Greenpoint and Ritchie by Ekapa Mining for the development of roads in the two areas.

The residents had given the premier 14 days to respond to their memorandum, but by yesterday no response had been received.

“The protesters are very angry because they feel that their issues are being ignored by the premier as the deadline for his response was more than two weeks ago already,” a resident stated.

Municipal spokesperson Sello Matsie yesterday confirmed that the municipal offices in the town had been set alight.

“We were due to address one of the issues raised in the memorandum yesterday, namely the outstanding bucket eradication programme, but our workers were prevented from going into the area,” said Matsie.

He added that staff managed to get through the barricades to attend to a motor that had burnt out as a result of a fault on one of the pumps that extracted water from the river.

“If we are not able to access the area, we cannot provide services to the community. We have to take the safety of our employees into consideration,” said Matsie.

As videos and photos of the protests were circulated on social media yesterday, members of the public questioned why protesters were able to set the municipal buildings alight in full view of the police.

“It appears that the police just stood by and watched. No one was arrested,” one resident said.

Meanwhile, the Northern Cape Department of Education spokesperson, Geoffrey van der Merwe, said that no end-of-year examinations were disrupted yesterday.

“We can confirm that the exams are running smoothly with no disruptions recorded at any of our examination centers,” Van der Merwe said.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Mohale Ramatseba said yesterday that the torching of the municipal offices in Ritchie by members of the public had been strongly condemned by the Provincial Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Risimati Shivuri.

“The provincial commissioner urged the residents not to resort violence or to damage property but to resolve their concerns in an amicable manner,” said Ramatseba.

According to Ramatseba it was alleged that enraged residents complaining about service delivery torched the offices yesterday at around midday.

“No arrests have been made as yet and anyone with information is kindly requested to contact the Detective Commander of Rietvale SAPS, Captain Rheeder at 082 469 0193. All information will be treated with confidence.”

He added that a case of arson is being investigated by the police.

“Members of the Public Order Policing unit are monitoring the situation,” said Ramatseba.