Protest 'overtaken by criminals'
2/9/2010 4:37:01 PM
Balfour - Criminals, and not legitimate protesters, were responsible for the looting and torching of property during the protests in Balfour, a man identifying himself as a community leader said on Tuesday.
"We have put the protests on hold. Part of what is happening is that we have been overtaken by criminal elements, these are the same people who are looting shops," said Zakhele Maya.
Maya leads a group called Dipaleseng, formed to voice concerns over the local Burnstone Mine's employment and development policies.
This, after foreigners' shops were looted and their properties and a municipal building set alight between Sunday and Monday.
Twenty-two people were to appear in the Balfour Magistrate's Court for public violence on Wednesday.
They were initially to have appeared on Tuesday, but would remain in custody until their Wednesday appearance, said Sergeant Sam Tshabalala.
Meanwhile, around 60 policemen patrolled the informal settlement on Tuesday. The main entrance was blocked with burning logs and other roads were barricaded with burning tyres.
Focus off main issue
Tshabalala said the protesters were forming groups and chanting struggle songs. As soon as the police approached, they would back off and disperse.
Maya said the criminals were taking the focus off the main issue - that the mine was not keeping to a promise to hire half its work force from the local community.
He accused foreign shopkeepers of having a hand in the violence.
He said that before the protests started, the community met with the shopkeepers and told them of their intention to protest at the mine.
It expressed concerns that criminals had taken advantage of previous protests to loot.
Community members asked the foreigners to remove cash and merchandise from their shops for their own safety, and even helped them do so, he explained.
However, during the protests, criminals moved in, and the shopkeepers then turned on the protesters.
Maya said it was not possible to identify the criminals as they targeted the shopkeepers in the early hours of the morning and it was difficult to find them.
The burning of a municipal office on Monday took place during a "war" between police and others and the situation was too chaotic to identify anyone, he said.
The group wants the Burnstone Mine's licence suspended until its concerns are addressed and it plans to resume protests and hold a march to the mine when it has been given permission by authorities to do so.
A mine spokesperson was not available for comment.