Throwing lots as Colesberg burns

Phakamisa Mayaba / Kuyasa Township is a tinderbox, perennially waiting to ignite. This happened again last Thursday, 18 October, when its streets went from easy traffic to barricaded roads, burning tyres and angry residents telling law enforcement to ‘f*kof’.

Riot police were called in from De Aar, and used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the rioters. Even the loadshedding guy either fluffed his schedule or had been advised to cut his sporadic two-hour pound of flesh by an hour that evening. For that, at least, the entire town was grateful. Not so for the stun grenades going off and the mess left behind by burning tyres.

Police keep an eye on the protests. Image: eParkeni.

The unrest was triggered by a SANRAL road maintenance project, meant to bring much-needed employment opportunities to the area. The much lauded multi-million-rand project has been a bone of bitter contention between various political parties, the community, and civic organisations; most notably the ANC, EFF and the Umsobomvu Residents Association, URA.

Following weeks of disagreement about the employment criteria, things came to a head last Thursday when commmunity members marched to the contractors’ premises. According to John Doe (not his real name), a participant in the march, they wanted specifics as to how the company had gone about employing those who had already seemingly started working at the company.

Doe claims that at a community meeting some two weeks prior, a compromise had been reached between the ANC – which already had a list of people whom it wanted employed on the project – and the community.

Tyres burning in Kuyasa, Image: eParkeni

‘We’d agreed,’ says Doe, ‘that 45 people would come from the ANC’s ‘list’ and another 45 would be determined by shuffling identity documents in a box and picking them out randomly.’

Adds Khayalethu ‘Old’ Gayiya: ‘this method is fair and square. It’s transparent, and furthermore, this is not an individual project but a government one, intended to develop Colesberg and the area at large.’

EFF provincial executive member Simphiwe Mrwarwaza reiterates a sentiment expressed during his party’s national shutdown in March this year where it virtually brought the town to a standstill.

‘The ANC,’ Mrwarwaza alleges, ‘is using these projects as a canvassing tool.’ Most community members want the employment to be via the shuffling of IDs in a box, so that everyone may enjoy equal opportunity despite political affiliation.

He further accuses the ANC of shoving their ‘lists’ – which he claims are always loaded with party loyalists – down the community’s throat. This, he says, leads to the same people being employed on these projects, and is categorically unfair.


eParkeni arrived on the scene of the protest on Friday morning. The township’s main road was studded with rocks, and a plume of smoke rose from a solitary burning tyre. Police in several vans and an armoured vehicle kept a watchful eye on the protesters, who were turning away vehicles who were trying to pass through the barricade.

The previous evening, one officer said, they’d had to dispense stun grenades to maintain order. But Doe, who had been ardently protesting, said this was owed more to police suspicion than any inclination to violence on the part of the protesters. ‘We were heading home when we saw the police firing stun grenades and rubber bullets.’

Fortunately, nobody was harmed. Doe also insisted that, apart from the EFF and URA, their cause enjoyed overwhelming support from the Democratic Alliance, the Patriotic Alliance, and dissatisfied members of the ANC itself.

In town, those who had been employed were eagerly collecting their personal protective gear (PPE). One particularly expansive subject expressed his joy at how his fortunes had improved, but refused to go into details as to how his employment had come about.

This was the general attitude eParkeni would encounter throughout the day – nobody really wanted to talk, at least not to us. Although the ANC probably had its hands full to oblige a sit-down, we were at least able to get some explanation from an ex-councillor who had kept abreast of the situation.

The first issue, he told us, was that no less than three construction companies had arrived in Colesberg. As a result the council resolved that all these companies would be working with a project liaison committee (PLC). Chief amongst the PLC’s mandates would be the facilitation of an employment database which would, among others, take stock of the town’s unemployed as well as giving preference to people who come from needy households.

Happy new employees on the road maintenance project collect their PPE. Image: Supplied.

According to the ex-councillor, the community had agreed to the unemployment database, a claim that Mrwarwaza denies. Our source further alleged that the EFF then went on to verbally threaten the construction companies, forcing them to cease operations, a move that triggered a standoff between the EFF and the ANC. Thanks to a heavy police presence, physical confrontations were neglible, although the week was marred by some skirmishes.

For Doe, the issue of the unemployment database is no more than a cover-up for the ruling party’s unscrupulous efforts to appoint only those who swear by it. Like the contentious issue of cadre deployment, which Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has labelled ‘unconstitutional’, the party is seen to be dictating who gets to work and who is left to forage on locusts and wild honey.

In view of the 2024 general election, Mrwarwaza sees this as a means to coerce the community into voting for the ruling party … or else. With ridiculous unemployment figures, jobs are no doubt a major drawcard, and to be seen to be creating them guarantees some political mileage. Doe and his posse have vowed to continue their picket. Given their numbers, it is doubtful whether this will bear any fruit, but they are young, restless and idle, seemingly with all the time in the world to come out and protest all day.


At the time of writing (Tuesday 24 October), the community was assembled for yet another meeting in the Kuyasa Community Hall. Packed to the rafters, there was the ubiquitous police presence and a lot of heckling, jeering and unmentionable language. Clearly there appears to be a long way to go before the feuding parties will reach a satisfactory compromise. Again the issue of ‘lists’ versus ‘drawing lots’ came up.

The disagreements intensified. Barely an hour into the proceedings, a toi-toi ensued, this time with bigger numbers. This is a developing story, and the mayhem continues…

Residents return home after a community meeting. Image: eParkeni.


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