HANDS ON: Minister of Police Nathi Mthetwa arrives at Ratanda police station to address residents who clashed with police for two days over electricity price hikes. Picture: FATI MOALUSI
About 110 people have been arrested for torching councillors’ houses, state properties, looting of shops belonging to foreign nationals and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in the Ratanda township in Heidelburg.
The group, which includes area community forum secretary Kenny Tsotetsi, were arrested between Monday and Wednesday night.
A large group appeared in the Heidelberg Magistrate’s Court yesterday and are expected to apply for bail on Thursday. Seventeen of them were minors and were released under parents’ supervision.
Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, his deputy Maggie Sotyu, acting police -commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi and ANC bigwigs yesterday visited the volatile township following a week’s violent protests.
Arriving in armoured police vehicles, with helicopters hovering above, the minister and his team listened to complaints from residents. They are unhappy about lack of development, high electricity bills, power disconnections to those failing to pay and poor of communication from leaders.
At a public meeting held at the local grounds, several community members claimed the Lesedi local municipality electricity billing system was a “rip-off”.
Ratanda resident Lydia Buthelezi said her electricity, rates and services bill was unaffordable. “I am a pensioner and live alone at my house, but my bill is always equal if not more than the money I receive for pension.
“If I buy groceries, my electricity will be cut. And if I pay my bill, what am I going to eat?”
Another resident, Motebang Bojabotsang, accused the local leadership for not communicating with the community. Since mayor Lerato Maloka was appointed, she had never called a single meeting to hear out issues affecting residents, he said.
“For example, I recently got a higher bill. When I went to the council offices, the amount was different.
“I filed a complaint, but in the process my electricity was cut.”
Bojabotsang said it took the municipality at least six months to resolve the problem.
Minister Mthethwa, who condemned acts of lawlessness in the area, said meetings to resolve the residents’ grievances were going to be held. “There will be several meetings in which residents and their leaderships will try to find a common ground.”
Mthethwa condemned the torching of councillors’ houses, libraries and other state properties. Those responsible would face the full might of the law.
Police were instructed to be as “humane as possible”, but in the process they became ¬victims as well, Mthethwa said.
Lesedi municipality speaker Simon Moremi, whose house was set fire to yesterday, said they were busy working on ¬finding solutions to the residents’ ¬grievances. “Our focus now is to have the situation normalised before we can assess damages and decide on a way forward.”
Following the failure by police to control the situation, it is understood that police were on Wednesday night given permission to use “medium force”.
Gauteng police spokesperson Lungelo Dlamini said normal policing would continue in the area.