Police open fire in third day of S. Africa protest

February 16, 2011 12:00 am

, WESSELTON, Feb 16 – Police fired rubber bullets as protesters set alight tyres in a destitute South African township Wednesday in a third day of demonstrations to demand jobs and improved services.

Riot police deployed into the streets of Wesselton, around 200 kilometres (124 miles) east of Johannesburg, to disperse protesters who also dragged the charred remains of Tuesday\’s barricades back into the road.

Businesses were closed and school children stayed at home amid fears that the streets could again explode violence after Tuesday\’s clashes, when police opened fire with rubber and live bullets.

A man was found dead Tuesday but authorities said it was not yet clear what had killed him.

Two children died in protests elsewhere in South Africa Tuesday, with a woman saying they drowned as they tried to escape police fire at a township demonstration in Boipelo, 300 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg.

South Africa routinely sees violent protests in its impoverished shantytowns over demands for better housing and services like water and electricity, although deadly clashes are rare.

Residents felt they needed to make their voices heard ahead of local elections due late May, said Owen Manotsi, an unemployed 29-year-old who took part in the Wesselton protests.

"Whenever there are elections, these councillors, these government officials, they come to us, (and say) \’Hey, we\’re gonna do this for you, we\’re gonna do that for you, everything will be fine\’," he said.

"But none of that happens after the elections. Nothing. So this is the right time for the people to voice their opinions, to voice their crisis.

"This is the only voice we have. We have to fight. The votes are making no difference," he said, also complaining of corruption in the municipal government.

Police said they fired rubber bullets Tuesday at Wesselton protesters who trashed and looted foreign-owned shops, and shot live ammunition into walls as a warning after demonstrators opened fire at the security forces.

"They don\’t care if you\’re participating or just watching, they shoot everybody," resident Sbusiso Nkosi, 21, said Wednesday as he crouched behind a tin-roof shack after running from riot police firing rubber bullets and carrying assault rifles.

Nkosi, an unemployed welder, told AFP that residents were angry over the government\’s failure to deliver services and the lack of jobs in the township, which is near the town of Ermelo.

South Africa\’s police chief Bheki Cele was to visit Wesselton Wednesday, as the police minister warned that violence would be punished.

"Police have a mandate to protect law-abiding citizens and those who find themselves on the wrong side — we shall have no leniency on them," Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement.

He also warned truck drivers on the third day of a wage strike in Johannesburg, saying they had the right to protest but not to "violent, barbaric and intolerant behaviour".

Four taxi passengers were seriously hurt near Johannesburg Wednesday when a trucker fleeing an attack by strikers crashed his vehicle into theirs, and other trucks were burned, stoned and looted, media reported.

Despite being the continent\’s economic powerhouse, South Africa has battled to improve living standards for the black majority since the 1994 fall of the white minority regime.

More than one million families live in shantytowns which have poor infrastructure and services, while around one in three people are without a job.


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