Enzenzeleni community members arrested over water protests
The community of Enzenzeleni, Warden in the Free State is angered by empty promises from the provincial premier, Mr Ace Magashule. The community and members of the Freedom of Expression Network expressed their grievances and demands concerning poor service delivery through a peaceful march to the local municipal offices on 2 December 2016. Their grievances include blocked toilets, lack of electricity, contaminated water and that sometimes they go days without water. They also demanded justice regarding the murder of one of their leaders, Vusi Mlaba who was shot dead last year.
The memorundum was received by a representative from the premier’s office, Mr Mthembu. Hope was restored when Mthembu promised to give the marchers feedback within 14 days. Unsurprisingly, no response was received by the community of Enzenzeleni, Warden more than a month later. On Monday, 9 January 2017 they marched back to the municipal offices to demand feedback. On their way back and after not receiving any help, seven people including Motlalepula Stofel Mokoena, one of the convener’s of the initial protest, were arrested for allegedly disrupting traffic and subsequently charged with public violence.
This fuelled anger in the residents, the protest was intensified and community members burnt tyres on the road. The police retaliated by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. There were no reported incidents of damage to property, nor injuries. One of the community members Mojalefa Mokoena who is the brother of the convener, is not happy about the existing conditions in his community. Speaking to the FXI, an emotional Mokoena said “The community resorted to the march simply because we want change in the community as we struggle with blocked toilets, we receive contaminated water and some people end up being infected with cholera. Not only that, three days would pass without us receiving any water.”
The seven arrested, two women and five men appeared in court on 10 January 2017 and were all denied bail. The men were sent to Harrismith prison while the women went to Kroonstad prison. They are expected to appear in the Warden Magistrate Court for a bail application on 19 January 2017. The FXI Law Clinic is working with the Right to Protest Project to assist the seven arrested community members. According to the Freedom of Expression Institute Project Officer, Siphiwe Segodi “Ezenzeleni is one of the isolated townships situated in a small town called Warden. In my view, it is common to find authorities undermining such communities’ rights with impunity. One of the contributing factors is that the media, especially mainstream media, pays little attention to such communities and these incidents are not exposed. The Constitution of the country is clear that everyone has the right to express himself or herself in the form of a protest if they do so peacefully and unarmed. Disruption is an inevitable characteristic of protest action, therefore I fail to understand why people must be sent to prison for merely exercising their right in line with the Constitution.”