Metrorail’s attempts to remove illegal electricity connections laid under and over its tracks resulted in a violent clash between about 100 Khayelitsha residents and police on Thursday. The clash, which occurred adjacent to the Nolungile station in Site C, resulted in police having to fire rubber bullets at the protestors after stones were thrown at moving trains and the police, and a police car was damaged.
One Khayelitsha resident was arrested and briefly appeared in the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court on Friday on a charge of malicious damage to state property, but not before residents of the Island informal settlement had marched to the police demanding his release, which was refused.
The drama began on Thursday morning after Metrorail employees attempted to remove illegal electricity connections running from electrified houses on one side of the railway line to the informal settlement.
The myriad wires ran both under the tracks where people had dug into the gravel rail bed, and hung over the electrical cables running above the rails.
Angry residents, who saw their electricity being cut off, came out in force and started throwing stones at the Metrorail employees.
Informal settlement resident Asanda Mgwebile said some residents sustained minor injuries after they slipped and fell on the gravel when police opened fire with rubber bullets.
While police continued to patrol the area on Friday, Mgwebile said residents would reconnect their wires as soon as police had left the area as they needed electricity for cooking, boiling water for washing, and some small businesses needed to conduct their operations.
Resident Mawethu Nkonga, 40, said the government needed to address the root of the problem by providing decent houses and electricity.
“If they continue disconnecting our electricity then they must move us out of here. We cannot live in the dark, but we voted. Wherever they say we must go, we are not going to resist that move. Enough is enough,” Nkonga said.
Khayelitsha’s Site-B police station communications officer Mthokozisi Gama confirmed the incident.
“After police were called in to resolve the stand-off (between Metrorail officials and residents), arguments between residents, Metrorail officials and police blew up and the crowd became uncontrollable,” Gama said.
“The residents began to throw stones at the police, damaging one police vehicle with a brick.”
Enquiries sent to Metrorail communications manger Riana Scott remained unanswered before going to press.
* Reporting by Sandiso Phaliso and Yugendree Naidoo. Published in City Press, 23 November 2008.