The past 2 days have had rocks and burning tires express the dissatisfaction of the poor of Qolweni, a growing shack community in Plettenberg Bay.
Most won’t know where Qolweni is. It’s not even marked on Google Maps. But if you’re a resident of the Garden Route, or a traveller passing through, it’s impossible to miss. Entering Plettenberg Bay (coming from Knysna), shoddy “houses” (pieced together from whatever can be found) line the left-hand side of the N2 highway and stretch inland.
Facts are hard to come by so i’ve tried to piece together an outline from several sources.
The cause is most likely the failure by the Bitou Municipality to deliver basic services to this ANC-led community (note that this was not part of the ongoing battle between the ANC and DA – in fact, the ANC Councillor for Qolweni was blocked from returning home). The spark may have been DA Mayor Memory Booysen who, apparently, after having received a list of grievances last week, failed to turn up (or was late) for a meeting to discuss them.
The protest began with stones and rocks being thrown at cars on Piesang Valley Road on Tuesday. By Wednesday (yesterday) it had escalated to burning tires blocking the N2. One person mentioned that tear gas had been used. A business owner in the industrial area, which borders Qolweni, told me that there’d been smaller roadblocks within and that more tires had been lit, ironically, near tyre and exhaust supplier, Hi-Q. Most businesses have closed to ensure protection of their staff.
If South Africa ever went up in flames, service delivery is likely to be the reason why. And for the past year i’ve considered Plett as a possible epicentre. That’s not a statement for shock effect. All South Africans should fear the consequences of mass unemployment when combined with the indignities of insufficient toilets, electricity and running water (the basics needed for any society to exist).
Lately, we’ve witnessed, protests against 8% unemployment in the USA and 18% in Greece. South Africa’s is officially at 26% but more likely over 50%, especially amongst young adults and even more so in small towns such as Knysna and Plettenberg Bay where the main industry of tourism has almost collapsed. It’s where crime is on the increase no matter what the police are reporting. It’s where local politicians avoid tackling the problems head-on whilst drawing salaries totally out of proportion to the populations they are suppose to serve.
These are not issues to be avoided. Disappointingly, not even the blocking of one of South Africa’s biggest roads made a dent in the news. That attitude will cost us all.