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Battle erupts after lightning strike causes power outage

By Adriana Stuijt     Dec 27, 2008 in Crime
There is growing anger among poor black communities in South Africa against the ruling ANC-government. A five-hour battle erupted on Christmas Day in downtown Pretoria after the electricity fell out in the low-income Schubart Park tower blocks..
The battle between the cops and hundreds of well-organised residents erupted on the second day of the power-outage which had plunged all the high-rise buildings of downtown Pretoria into gloom over the Christmas holidays. The municipal officials have been trying to evict residents from these dangerously delapidated buildings for several years. Just two days before Christmas, the officials say, a lightning strike had destroyed a substation - and it took them two days to restore electricity to one of the tower blocks.
The Pretoria metropolitan police, after arresting 35 people in a the five-hour battle, says the entire riot had been pre-planned: residents had even lugged bricks up to the 12th floor of a low-income housing flat just to drop them on police cars below.
Miraculously, no-one was injured. After the electricity had been out for two days, the riots erupted, with residents blockading four main streets in downtown Pretoria and stoning police vehicles.
The chairman of the Schubart- and Kruger Park residents' committee, Aubrey Ramotlhale, adamantly refused to believe that the power-outage was caused by any lightning strike. He also accused police of arresting innocent people by simply walking into flats nilly-willy to arrest residents.
Whatever caused the substation to explode on Tuesday, it plunged hundreds of families inside these already miserably overcrowded buildings into permanent darkness during the Christmas holidays. And these dirt-poor residents were left in the dark until Thursday evening.
The battle was fierce: at around noon on Thursday, residents started throwing rocks and bottles at police and barricaded the streets, and dropping a hail of large bricks from the 12th floor to damage police vehicles. Two were damaged.
They also barricaded the surrounding Vermeulen, Schubart and Proes streets with burning tyres and dustbins. Police said they did open fire on the protesters, they claim with rubber bullets - but Ramothlhale claims that shotguns and live ammo were used.
In spite of all this anger and violence, police captain Dumisani Ndlazi said, no officers nor any residents hurt.
The delapidated Schubart Park buildings - originally built to house low-income white old-aged pensioners -- have been the scene of considerable violence before: it was even torched earlier this year by residents who were angry at being evicted because the buildings were becoming so unsafe.
After the forced evacuation by Air Force helicopters from the rooftops, many residents simply moved back in again. The 17th Air Force Squadron was called in from Swartkops air force base to rescue people all day -- and four people had died from smoke inhalation see
Pretoria council spokesman Console Tleane still insists that the power outage had been caused by a lighting strike on Tuesday night. He said it took so long to repair because Schubert Park's electrical wires were submerged in water after the electrical storm - and they had to drain out the water first, with a handpump.
Tleane: "it 'was quite an ugly scene. I believe the unrest was premeditated because the rocks that were dropped on police personnel and vehicles from the 12th floor could not have got up there by themselves. '
Situation still very tense:
Ramotlhale said on Friday afternoon that one block of flats was still without electricity and, as a result, "the situation is still very tense". He accused the police of acting unlawfully. "What happened on Thursday was a sad thing. The police simply arrested innocent people. They forcefully broke into flats and arrested anyone inside. I personally feel that the arrests were unlawful. They started shooting people without asking questions, and the police always take the municipality's side."
Ramotlhale said the committee would do everything in its power to get the people who were arrested out of jail. "The police just ran into the complex and shot at people with shotguns using live ammunition. They came just to fight with us. The people who were arrested should be released," he said. He did not explain why no-one was injured in this melee, however.
This game, the municipal officials will lose...
Ramotlhale doesn't believe for one minute that the power outages were caused by a lightning strike. He said the council had resorted to evicting people from the delapidated Schubart Park buildings by cutting off their services before. The council should stop playing hide and seek. They are evicting us through cutting off our electricity and this is illegal. If they do not follow the law, then we also will not. This is all a game and it is one the municipality will lose. We will take them to every court in the land and fight them there," he said.
Captain Ndlazi denied the allegation that police had used live ammunition. "Police only ever used live ammunition when confronted by armed robbers, and not in protests of this nature."
Arrogant ANC-officials
Ben du Koker, chairman of the local Vukuzenzele Democratic Movement, slammed 'arrogant ANC-officials and councillors', warning that they were "seriously disregarding the welfawre and social stability of their voters.
"The housing allocations in Pretoria are controlled by favourism for the ruling elite and their henchmen," he said. "Some of our members are waiting now for more than 4 years for housing and all efforts by our people for answers are disregarded." see
To get a good idea of the growing crisis surrounding the housing shortages in South Africa, view the following video:
More about Anc-officials embattled, Residents wage battle, Power outage, Lightning strikes, Schubart park building
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