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‘Do or die’ in volatile Westenburg


Allegations of perceived African National Congress (ANC) involvement in the ongoing explosive flare-up in Westenburg have been vehemently denied in the aftermath of the treasurer of the ruling party’s local branch reportedly being arrested for his suspected involvement in leading a group seen to be responsible for incidents relating to violent protest action.
By yesterday (Wednesday) residents of Westenburg had been exposed to the third consecutive day of unrest with schooling and other activities being interrupted. The situation seemingly remains volatile with rubber bullets having been fired at intervals and protesters continuously burning tyres since Monday.
First thing yesterday (Wednesday) a video clip was received of protesters under the Westenburg Community Development Forum banner forming a human shield in a stand-off with Police at the Matlala road turn-off to the settlement early morning. On the clip a voice seemingly belonging to that of a participating community member can be heard saying it was “do or die” and inviting the Police to “kill us all”.
By then the Chairperson of Westenburg Community Development Forum, Ray Goulkan, had reportedly been arrested about four hours earlier. His arrest followed that of eight other suspects the previous day around 13:00.
In the meantime signs of community members of Westenburg preparing for an even bigger battle were detected as they reportedly planned to hit back if electricity supply – that allegedly got cut at approximately 04:00 yesterday – was not restored to affected areas. Seeing it as a possible act of revenge by Polokwane Municipality, they planned to retaliate, said a source. What was already going on in the settlement was nothing compared to what awaited if power was not restored, the resident warned.
Polokwane Municipal spokesperson Matshidiso Mothapo confirmed an isolated power outage affecting a few blocks in the neighbourhood and said it was being attended to by technicians whose safety might be compromised by the unrest.
The degree of display of perceived discontent by protesters is being frowned upon. Petrol bombs allegedly assembled on a Westenburg street Tuesday afternoon were seemingly used to torch two Police vehicles that evening and property of a contractor had been set alight on Monday night. On Tuesday afternoon information was received that protesters were planning to set their aim at government infrastructure if issues were not addressed. As far as could be established the alleged bombing of Police property apparently occurred while role players were meeting at the Police station to discuss the issues on the table.
A source said petrol bombs for torching Police property on Tuesday night were allegedly being assembled by ten to fifteen persons on a sidewalk in Westenburg earlier that afternoon. A woman who allegedly demanded petrol from a filling station in the area was reported to have been among those arrested, the source said. As the conversation continued the source referred to shots being fired in the vicinity at the time.
Westenburg Community Development Forum Chairperson comment
Before entering into the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Goulkan informed Polokwane Observer that the community was disgruntled over several issues, among others service delivery, dilapidated recreational facilities, being sidelined on empowerment and job opportunities, contracts being given to businesspeople from outside Polokwane and outside labour being used on contracts. He listed the project at Extension 40 opposite the turn-off to Westenburg as an example.
He indicated that the protest action would continue if the meeting with Polokwane Municipality didn’t end amicably. If the protest continued they couldn’t guarantee that property wouldn’t be damaged, he stressed. During the telephonic interview Goulkan denied knowledge of the identity of those responsible for allegedly burning equipment in a contractor’s yard and said he only learnt of the incident that morning around 07:00.
He lamented elderly women and children, whom he described as innocent by-standers, being hit by rubber bullets earlier and simultaneous arrest of the eight suspects. According to Goulkan he didn’t know what they were arrested for or when they would appear in court.
When asked about alleged perceived ANC involvement in the protest action Goulkan, who is treasurer of the Winrainbow branch of the ANC, responded saying it was not linked to any political party and that it was a community initiative. The demands of the community were legitimate and he needed to support it. He emphatically stated that he was not doing it under the ANC banner or wearing an ANC cap in that regard.
ANC Winrainbow
When asked for comment ANC Winrainbow Branch Chairperson Stuurman Mashimpye responded saying when Goulkan had been arrested in connection with the unrest he was not doing it in the name of the ANC but was representing the Westenburg Community Development Forum. From the onset Goulkan had put it very clearly that he was the chairperson of the forum, he added. “That thing has got nothing to do with the ANC.” He reiterated that the ANC did not condone violent protest at all. According to Mashimpye they were hoping for positive feedback after a memorandum was handed over during the meeting at the local Police station on Tuesday evening.
ANC Peter Mokaba Region
ANC Peter Mokaba Regional Secretary Eugene Masete, who was accompanied to the meeting by ANC Councillor in Ward 19, Hafiz Shaikh and ANC Chief Whip in Polokwane Council Mamedupi Teffo, said several issues had been raised in the memorandum received the previous evening. They had given an undertaking to escalate new issues raised in the memorandum to the relevant government departments and Polokwane Municipality respectively, he said. According to him feedback was expected to be given to the community during a meeting set for tomorrow (Friday).
In the meantime Democratic Alliance (DA) Councillor on Polokwane Council, Khetan Vallabh issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the party had written to the Speaker of Polokwane Council, Mariri Ralefatane, to “urgently summon ANC Ward 19 Councillor Shaikh Haffizuddin (sic) for his failure to provide quarterly reports on the performance of the municipality to the residents of Westen­burg. This has led to the volatile service delivery protest this morning.”
In response to the allegations levelled against him Shaikh refuted the statement and informed Polokwane Observer that they had meetings with the community on different issues all the time. He said he had attendance registers of all those meetings. He challenged the DA on the matter, adding that he had more meetings with the community than them. His response was cut short when a Polokwane Council meeting that he was scheduled to attend commenced yesterday morning.
Provincial Police comment
As the last check was being done with the Police, Provincial Communications Head Motlafela Mojapelo described the situation as under control and quiet with the Public Order Police being on the scene.
Ten people had been arrested thus far on charges of public violence, malicious damage to property, assault on the Police, contravention of the Gatherings Act and Road Traffic Act and were expected to appear in Polokwa­ne Magistrates Court today (Thursday), he said. When the issue of Goulkan’s arrest was raised, he indicated no names could be discussed at the time.

It was an ordinary return for three young girls, playtime for boys on a bike.

Westenburg on fire.

Photos: YOLANDE NEL/supplied

Business as usual for residents, who seemed unperturbed by the smoke rising from unrest on Tuesday