POLICE on Friday fired rubber bullets into a crowd of angry protesters in the impoverished area of Missionvale, Port Elizabeth.
More than 100 angry residents gathered to protest against a tender which they say was awarded to “white people” by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality last year.
When Weekend Post arrived in Missionvale a crowd surrounded the empty car of Ward 36 councillor Cedric Pietersen. Although there was no violence at the time, police fired into the crowd so Pietersen could get away.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Precious Timla would not confirm whether any protesters were injured, or even whether rubber bullets were fired, even though a Weekend Post reporter witnessed the incident.
The protesters burnt tyres in front of the councillor’s office and elsewhere in Missionvale Road several times during the morning.
Furious Missionvale and Kleinskool (MK) Cleansing Co-operative members accused Pietersen of bribery and of making empty promises.
The co-operative, which has 17 partners and 54 casual labourers, previously had a three-year municipal contract to clean the area, but it expired last year. Instead the municipality awarded the tender to Ozmatt Trading.
MK members who spoke to Weekend Post did so anonymously as they said they feared being victimised. “They gave the white man a contract,” one said. “They have taken work away from us. It was our duty to sweep streets, clean drains and take rubbish to a tip.”
Another said: “They robbed us.”
Pietersen insisted he did not accept bribes and that the accusations against him were unfounded. “The contract was awarded by the municipality after a long investigation.”
Pietersen said he had not fled in his car after police fired into the crowd. “A municipal security officer drove my car off. I left in a municipal vehicle. I felt threatened by (the protesters). One woman threw muti at my shirt and I had to take the shirt off.”
He said he had assisted MK and other service providers who were unhappy about the contract.
“I am upset that not one of cooperatives who applied for the tender got the contract, but I am relieved there has been job creation for community members (under Ozmatt),” Pietersen insisted.
Ozmatt’s contract was to have started on December 1, but was put on hold while MK’s complaints of irregularities were investigated.
Ozmatt operations manager Glen Urquhart said his staff had wanted to start work yesterday. The municipality told him that “if we don’t start on our appointed date (Friday) it could bring consequences for us”.
Urquhart said his company’s tender had been the lowest, but he was sure “problems with MK would continue”.
Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said: “If democratically elected leaders are threatened, the municipality will do its best to ensure the safety of councillors.”