Protestors and police clashed at the N1 crossing leading to Elim on Tuesday morning. Photo: Kaizer Nengovhela.
Louis Trichardt resembled a ghost town on Tuesday morning, with protesters blocking off most of the roads leading to the town. The police and traffic officials had their hands full, and early in the day, even traffic on the N1 was affected as vehicles were stopped at the circle leading to Elim.
The protest action forms part of a two-day strike called for by the Zoutpansberg Community Development Forum. It is primarily being supported by residents staying in the “western” region, including Sinthumule and Kutama. Residents are frustrated about a lack of water, dilapidated roads, and an unreliable electricity supply to parts of the region.
The two-day strike also has the support of many taxi drivers and bus companies. One of the main concerns is the terrible state of roads, especially the D3715, which connects various villages in Sinthumule and Kutama. In January 2022, it was reported that yet another R30 million was set aside to try and fix this road. The first phase, costing R8 million, was used to fix the 3.5 km stretch between Madabani and Madodonga. The balance (R22 million) was allocated to fix the five-kilometre stretch between Madodonga and Tshikhodobo.
But despite the millions thrown in to try and “patch” parts of the road, it remains in a terrible state and a danger to road users. This road, as well as the D959 road leading from Madombidzha to the Air Force Base Makhado, fuelled the tension.
The protest action started early on Monday morning, with blockages reported on all roads leading to and from the Sinthumule and Kutama areas. The roads leading to areas such as Nzhelele were also affected. On Tuesday, the protest action was more severe, affecting entrances to town from the Elim side.
The local business community was not overly impressed with the disruptive action. One business owner, who did not want his name to be mentioned, summarized the sentiment when he said most local residents can sympathize with the frustrations, but this is not the way to address the problems. “Why act like a bully and punish the workers and the local businesses?” he said. Thousands of people could not reach their places of work and would have to put in two days' leave or go without pay. Businesses, which are already under immense economic pressure, suffer even more losses. “Water is the responsibility of the Vhembe District Municipality, which is situated in Thohoyandou. Many of the roads fall under the provincial agency, which is situated in Polokwane. Why take a swipe at the local people, who can do nothing to change the situation?” he asked.
Although many residents believe the protest action is merely the start of the political game-playing that precedes the elections later this year, the organizers are adamant that it is not for grandstanding. “No political slogans or regalia are allowed,” instructed Patrick Sikhutshi, one of the organizers, in a letter circulated last week.
The spokesperson for the Makhado SAPS, Sgt Tshifhiwa Radzilani, confirmed on Tuesday morning that a group of protesters attempted to block the N1. The police intervened and had discussions with the leaders, after which they dispersed.
In response, Sikhutshi warned protesters not to engage in unlawful activities and to conduct themselves properly. He emphasized that the protest action is peaceful and warned those that do not respect this, that they will be arrested.
Date:23 January 2024
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.