Minister concedes Ratanda has woes

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa admitted there were major problems in Ratanda as he addressed hundreds of residents who have spent the past four days in sometimes violent protests.

Mthethwa arrived with representatives from Community Safety, Local Government and Provincial Affairs and the Defence Ministry on Thursday morning in an attempt to calm the angry residents.

Overnight protest action on Wednesday night was followed by mild tension on Thursday inside the township, where three councillors’ houses have been burnt to the ground.

On Tuesday, police resorted to teargas to control the rioters, who targeted numerous municipal offices in separate groups.

Mthethwa said the police had been doing everything they could to deal with the protests in a humane way, but if the community continued to react violently in their protests, the police would move from minimum to medium force.

He called on Ratanda residents to stop destroying property, saying the attendance of so many departments meant they recognised there was a major problem in municipal services in the area.

He said an upcoming community meeting between all of the departments and Ratanda residents would allow them to have all of the issues aired – and hopefully resolved.

Ratanda has experienced four days of protests over electricity billing, with many residents saying their accounts were too high.

Two councillors’ homes were burnt to the ground on Tuesday along with the community hall and other municipal service buildings.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said a third home, owned by a municipal worker, was burnt down near the centre of the township.

Cars attempting to get into the township on the R549 road towards the Vaal Dam, which passes through the centre of Ratanda, were targets.

Hundreds of Ratanda residents have taken to the streets and blockaded major roads since Monday.

Thursday morning, police were on high alert, preventing large groups of protesters from forming, while huge piles of ash and burnt debris littered the roads leading in and out of the township. More than 50 arrests were reported on Tuesday, but police had yet to release a full tally of the number of people in custody.

The municipality’s acting manager, Banzi Majola, said attempts to meet with residents had proved difficult as many community leaders were wary of being charged over the major property damage.

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