The havoc in Harrismith
Sunday Times, 5/9/2004
A STORM brewed overhead as Free State Premier Beatrice Marshoff and her motorcade wound their way to Harrismith on Thursday.
clouds, punctuated by plumes of acrid black smoke from burning tyres,
hung ominously over Intabazwe, the township set on a hill above the
eastern Free State town. It has been the scene of bloody clashes
between police and residents this week.
As Marshoff's convoy neared, the storm broke. A sudden downpour of
hailstones blanketed Harrismith and the surrounding countryside in a
cloak of white.
The sights that greeted Marshoff in Intabazwe
were in stark contrast to the beauty of that scene. Smouldering
barricades of tyres, barbed wire, boulders and wrecked cars blocked the
In streets slick with rain, angry demonstrators had
spent the day taunting police and waving placards calling for an end to
corruption and nepotism in the Maluti-a-Phofung council.
house in a dusty side street, Marshoff paid her respects to the family
of 17-year-old Teboho Mkhonza, shot dead by police who opened fire on
hundreds of demonstrators blocking the nearby highway on Monday.
with grief, Teboho's stepsister, Brenda Tsotetsi, had to be helped out
of the house by Marshoff and a family member. Weeping and struggling
for breath, she fainted. Marshoff, a former nurse, went to her aid,
dropping beside the young woman and rallying the family to fetch water
Marshoff's efforts to calm an angry crowd, which
had gathered at Intabazwe's municipal swimming pool to hear her speak,
proved less successful. They jeered at her. She repeatedly implored the
crowd: "Listen to me. Listen to me."
Some confronted her, their faces contorted with rage.
ill-fated visit ended in a hail of stones and rocks from a small group
of protesters. Windows shattered as the convoy carrying Marshoff, ANC
Free State chairman Ace Magashule, Safety and Security MEC Tate Makgoe,
ANCYL national executive committee member Saki Mofokeng and the local
mayor, Dr Eddie Mzangwa, drove off.
VIP Protection Unit officers scrambled for automatic weapons and police fired stun grenades.
said later they had not intended to target Marshoff, but had mistaken
her car for the one in which Mzangwa was travelling.
waiting in the biting wind and rain for Marshoff to arrive, many
residents expressed a murderous hatred for the mayor. "If he comes
here, we'll kill him," one woman said. "We don't want him as our mayor
any more. He and his councillors must go."
Mzangwa's failure to address demonstrators blocking the N3 highway near
Harrismith on Monday as the spark for the ensuing violence. They say he
and his councillors have failed to address their grievances.
the early hours of Friday, police arrested five leading members of the
Greater Harrismith Concerned Residents' Forum, which organised the
Leader of the group Neo Motaung, 29, Mxolisi Zwane, 31,
Mokele Mofokeng, 33, Seiso Hlophe, 42, and Tshepo Mashiloane, 36,
appeared in the Harrismith Magistrate's Court on Friday night, charged
with organising an unauthorised protest march and public violence. They
were released on R500 bail each.
Forum member Simphiwe Tshabalala
said some of the complaints had their origins as far back as 1999. But,
he said, the central issue was the relationship between Harrismith and
the former homeland of Qwa Qwa, one of the Free State's success stories.
fall under that municipality but we don't want to. All the money for
development is going to Qwa Qwa, businesses are being moved there.
There are no jobs here," he said.
According to Tshabalala,
government promises of low-cost housing had come to nothing. "The last
time they built RDP houses here was in 1997. Now they are falling
Tshabalala and other residents accuse the municipality
of corruption, nepotism and "broken promises". Mzangwa denies the
claims and challenges the complainers to prove them.
Malinga has lived in a low-cost house on a dirt road near the N3 for
the past six years. "I have to put sandbags on the roof to stop it from
lifting up when the wind blows," she said. "There are cracks in the
walls and when it rains, it leaks."
David Tsotetsi, the PAC's
provincial secretary, said the violence was "the ANC's own fault. There
have been complaints since 1999, but they have done nothing."
said she believed the community had some "legitimate concerns", among
them "the implementation of free basic services, the indigent policies
that are not being implemented and the attitudes of councillors".
said she believed the police had not used "undue force" when they
opened fire on the crowd on Monday. "But I did indicate to them that it
is unacceptable that a child died," she said.
She said the Free State government would help the family "financially and emotionally" and assist with funeral arrangements.
degree of calm had returned to Intabazwe yesterday and barricades that
blocked main roads had been removed. Marshoff is expected to visit
again on Tuesday.
Brenda Tsotetsi wants the community to stop the violence "before the police kill other innocent people".
a plastic bucket containing Mkhonza's blood-soaked clothes and the
satchel he had with him when he was shot, she said: "I don't know who
to blame. We were very happy the premier came to see us. We're also
fine with the mayor."
In another room, Mkhonza's adoptive mother,
Violet Ncongwana, lay on the floor, wrapped in blankets, holding a
vigil next to a lone candle.
"She cries often, but she's holding up," said Tsotetsi.
played drums in the township. He said he always wanted to be a
celebrity. It's terrible that now he's a celebrity by death."