The battle for basic services in South Africa’s Walmer township

Screen grab of protests in Walmer Township.
 
Made up in part of makeshift homes built out of corrugated iron and wooden pallets, many in Walmer Township, located in the South African city of Port Elizabeth, live without basics such as running water. Outraged over living conditions, the township was hit by a wave of unrest earlier this week after protests calling for greater services turned violent. While an uneasy calm has since settled over the community, the township’s residents are still waiting to see if their demands will be fully met.
 
Walmer’s residents have long fought for the city to improve living conditions by constructing adequate housing and providing the township with electricity and sanitation services. The latest bout of protests erupted in June, at which point Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which includes Port Elizabeth, promised to get back to the community during the first week of July with a response on how they planned to address the issues.
 
Anger boiled over on Monday, July 2 as the deadline came and went without a peep from local authorities, prompting further demonstrations. The situation degenerated into violence on Tuesday after some protesters began targeting immigrant-owned businesses, looting several shops run by Somalis. According to local media, a number of Somali immigrants have fled the township, fearing for their safety. As the mayhem spread through Walmer, police arrested several looters and used teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to break up the crowds.
 
Fire blazes on a road during protests in Walmer Township. Video posted on YuoTube by
justinblackett.
 
In the wake of the protests, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality authorities quickly sat down with Walmer township community leaders to address their demands. Although protests have been suspended in the immediate future, a community spokesperson has reportedly said that they are not completely satisfied with the proposed timeline for resolving certain issues, such as housing, hinting that the struggle for basic services in Walmer may still be far from over.
Contributors

Unregistered user

“There’s a mood of frustration over all of the broken promises to bring services to Walmer”

Basil (who declined to give his last name) is a retiree in Port Elizabeth, where he lives just two streets away from where the protests erupted.
 
The residents of Walmer Township were made promises by the local government that they would be given electricity, running water and other basic services, because they basically live in third world conditions. But it never seems to happen.
 
The protests took place on a road that runs past the township and also serves as one of the city’s main arteries. There was quite a bit of disruption and traffic jams because of it. Some people couldn’t get out of the area to get to work. But I suppose that’s part of the reason why they chose to do it there.
 
From my house I could hear what sounded like the police firing rubber bullets and water cannons at people, and I could of course hear the protesters chanting. I took a walk to Walmer, and saw that there was a huge police presence. Protesters were also singing and doing the Toyi -toyi, a form of dance. There’s a mood of frustration over all of the broken promises to bring services to Walmer.
 
Scorched entrance to a store. Photo by our Observer Siphokazi Mtengwana.
 
Sadly, there’s also been an element of criminality to the protests. A number of shops belonging to people who come from outside of South Africa were broken into and looted. It appears to be the product of xenophobia. The protest movement has tried to distance themselves from the acts.
 

Unregistered user

“There were tyres burning in the street and it was impossible to get in and out of the township”

Siphokazi Mtengwana is a vocalist for the South African band the New Afroteens and lives in Walmer Township. Mtengwana was at home on Tuesday when the protests turned violent.
 
I think people were angry because they felt like no one was paying attention to them. There were tyres burning in the street and it was impossible to get in and out of the township. The police were trying really hard to stop the protesters, but when they refused to calm down everything went haywire. I was scared – I stayed in my house the whole day and refused to go out into the street.
 
Traces of protests in Walmer Township. Photo by our Observer Siphokazi Mtengwana.
 
They also attacked and vandalised all the Somali-run shops in the township. There are some people who feel that the Somali immigrants do not belong here. Now almost all of the stores here have shut down. There are only two or three that are still open, and they only have a limited stock. Now, if you need to buy something, you have to travel a very far distance to get into the city.
 
While I think the protests went too far on Tuesday, I also understand why people are angry. I live in Walmer Township. I see people with no homes, I see people still using the bucket system, I see people with no food, and I see the gravel on the unpaved roads. The services they are asking for are long overdue.
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