Pretoria – A total of 48 people were arrested on Wednesday when protests at the notorious Schubart Park flats in central Pretoria turned violent.
“We have had a few challenges during the day,” said Tshwane’s deputy metro police chief Ndumiso Jaca.
The police fired rubber bullets at rowdy residents, who set the building alight. Protesters burnt tyres inside the block of flats and threw bricks and bottles into the streets.
Rescue services brought the fire under control in the late afternoon, as police officers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests entered the building and escorted people out.
Police vans drove away with groups of protesters in the back.
A car parked outside the flats was still smouldering after being set alight earlier in the day, while another car was removed by onlookers after being pelted with stones.
A mobile toilet was also set alight.
At one stage, as the police backed off, protesters ran onto the streets to collect the stones they had thrown, before dashing back into the building.
A police helicopter circled the building and a water canon was wheeled to the scene.
When objects were thrown at a group of minibus taxis, their drivers retaliated by throwing bottles back at residents, prompting the police to fire rubber bullets.
It is not known how many people live in Schubart Park, which consists of four buildings, one of which is vacant and has been stripped. Many of the residents are said to be undocumented foreigners.
Motorists were left stuck as roads around the block of flats were closed off.
Tshwane municipal spokesperson Peter de Necker said several government officials were on the scene.
Alternative accommodation would be organised for the residents if necessary.
About a 100 people started protesting against water and electricity services on Wednesday afternoon.
De Necker said the electricity department had tried to inspect the building earlier on Wednesday, but residents would not allow them to enter.
Captain Pinky Tsinyane said police escorted women with young children out of the building.
Children were also evacuated from two crèches on the premises.
Last month, flat dwellers set fire to rubbish in the stairwells, apparently in protest over a lack of water and electricity. A flat on the 15th floor was gutted.
In July 2008, four adults and a toddler died in a fire at the neighbouring Kruger Park flats.
The blaze was started in protest against evictions from Schubart Park by a private security company.
In November 2008, the municipality announced it would renovate the block of flats, as they were a health and safety hazard.
On Christmas day that year, 50 people were arrested when protests, also over water and electricity cuts, turned violent at the building.