Bakkie – and job prospects – go up in flames

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / Simmering tensions over community employment on road maintenance projects have flared into violence. In what is suspected to be a politically motivated incident, the bakkie of the ANC subregional chairperson, Siyabulela Phololo, went up in flames in the early hours of Thursday morning. This follows a fortnight of intermittent protests about employment on SANRAL road reconstruction projects due to get under way along the N1 highway near Colesberg.

Mr Siyabulela Phololo’s bakkie goes up in flames.

By Wednesday evening, rioters were burning tyres along the busy highway, forcing a diversion of traffic. Despite numerous community meetings aimed at ending the standoff between the community, civic organisations, the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) about the criteria of employment on these projects, a solution has not been reached.

The ANC subregional chairman’s bakkie – a burnt-out shell.

Since last week the town has been a hive of protest, with riot police from De Aar being called in to quell outbreaks of violence. On Thursday morning, an urgent meeting was called at the Lowryville community hall, aimed at resolving these issues. However, this soon deteriorated into the usual name-calling, finger-pointing and obstinate inability to see eye to eye. Tensions mounted between the warring groups, with police occasionally stepping in to prevent physical confrontations.

According to EFF provincial member Simphiwe Mrwarwaza, the dispute has been caused by the ANC’s alleged attempt to have only people on its lists employed by one of the new construction companies. As a result, says Mrwarwaza, the 50/50 offer the EFF had extended to the ANC is no longer on the table. Their unwavering demand now is that all employment be done through the shuffling of identity documents.

Phololo has since opened a case with the SA Police Service. Although he did not respond to our requests for comment, he did address members of his constituency, asking them to exercise restraint and to let the law take its course.

Siyabulela Phololo addresses community members.

According to an ex-councillor, the central issue is political: if you have the numbers, as the ANC does in council, you want to exercise your will. “It has [always] been like that,” he adds, meaning that of all the roughly 440 people who are due to be employed, the ANC would have the lion’s share. Given that it had once agreed to the selection of five individuals through “shuffling,” this means that a whopping 435 (98%) of the employed people would come from the ruling party.

This seems to be what has driven a wedge between the opposing entities, and put paid to any hope of them ever reaching an amicable solution. Unfortunately, the upshot of these sorts of political power games is that nobody will win, least of all the community.

Community members walking away from another fruitless meeting.

Desperate for employment, they have been caught up in a dire situation, in which some could be seen wielding pangas and tyres, ready to trade blows with their fellow men. Under the scorching sun, they have marched – some on empty stomachs and worn-out shoes – doing their bidding for this or that grouping. The dust had barely settled when the construction companies – who were a last hope for a decent meal and new Christmas clothes for the kids of the unemployed – figured this was way beyond them, and subsequently resolved to defer the matter to their superiors.

As things stand, the projects have seemingly been halted indefinitely. The economic relief they were meant to bring about remains elusive for those desperate individuals who were seemingly prepared to brawl and maim for a shot at a job. Ultimately, the violence has helped nobody. The community continues to choke under the stranglehold of unemployment; poverty, its cousin, chips away at their dignity, and the powers that be continue to bicker in their ivory towers.

In the meantime, the EFF has distanced itself from the torching of the bakkie, and by Friday afternoon no arrests had been made.

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