Court grants interdict against Swellendam protests

This follows chaos and violence during protests in the town in recent weeks

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The High Court has granted an interdict prohibiting Swellendam residents from participating in unlawful protests, damaging property, intimidating people and blocking roads. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

The Swellendam Municipality has been granted a court order prohibiting residents from participating in unlawful protests, damaging property, intimidating people and blocking roads. The order by the Western Cape High Court, granted on 20 September, comes after violent protests these past few weeks.

In August, a municipal office was torched and several shops were looted. A peaceful protest later that month saw the handover of a memorandum to the mayor. However, on Wednesday, during a mass protest, the Thusong service centre (a municipal building) and a fire service vehicle were torched, and several roads were blocked in Swellendam’s Railton area.

According to protesters, the anger is over an electricity tariff increase implemented in July and the municipality’s decision that households qualifying for indigent subsidy benefits must reapply annually.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mayor Francois du Rand said Swellendam had come under attack “by a campaign of terror”, and the destruction of public property was a significant setback for the entire community.

Anton Bredell, Western Cape MEC for local government, said, “This court verdict should be seen as a strong message that unlawful behaviour is not acceptable. The [next] step must be to hold those responsible for the unrest in Swellendam accountable and institute damages claims against them.”

David Maynier, MEC for education, said 72% of learners at three schools stayed at home during Wednesday’s protest. “It is extremely disappointing that learners are missing school because of the fear generated by violent protests. This is a crucial time of the year, especially for our matrics.”

Resident Riaan Jonas, one of the respondents named in the interdict, told GroundUp that the protesters were consulting lawyers about the interdict.

Jonas blamed the mayor for failing to negotiate.

“The DA has been running this municipality since 2006. This year was the only year that they wanted to change the [indigent policy]. Now, the mayor wants to shift the blame. We must sit around the table and discuss the issue,” he said.

ANC Overberg spokesperson Renier Louw said his party is studying the interdict. He denied allegations that the ANC, named in the interdict, was involved in the violent protests.

“This is just a distraction from the real issue – the municipality not to change the indigent policy. We condemn violence of any sort. This initial protest action was not driven by a political party, it was driven by the community,” said Louw.

TOPICS:  Crime Electricity Local government

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