Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal was closed last week as residents burnt tyres in protest against the lack of basic services. Picture: SOWETAN
Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal was closed last week as residents burnt tyres in protest against the lack of basic services. Picture: SOWETAN

Residents of the town of Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal have threatened to disrupt elections in May over alleged service delivery failure in the region. 

The area was closed last week following prolonged protests against lack of basic services like water, sanitation, housing and lack of job opportunities. Residents burnt tyres and other debris, preventing traffic from going through the town.

At least one person was shot dead and two were injured during the violence. 

Protesters claim that corrupt officials are siphoning funds meant to deliver services to the local community.

At least eight Umzimkhulu municipality officials were arrested late last year and were charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering.

They were accused of being part of a syndicate that created fake contracts with companies who did no work but were paid. These companies then allegedly paid kickbacks to the officials. The eight have appeared in the the Durban Commercial Crimes Court and are now under suspension with full pay.

In 2017 former ANC Youth League secretary-general and Umzimkhulu councillor Sindiso Magaqa was shot and killed after being ambushed. Two councillors who were travelling with him were wounded in the shooting.

Smangele Ngcobo, a resident of the local village of KwaMeyi, said residents started the protest after reached their limit with corruption and a lack of basic services.

“We don’t have water here. We have to fetch water in the river and we share this water with cattle and other animals. Some people even throw away dead goats and dogs in the water we drink.

“Three years ago we were promised by this municipality’s officials that they will put communal taps to alleviate our plight. Nothing has come of it. Instead we hear that connected people are reaping good tenders for doing nothing,” she said.

Other residents said they will continue their protest this week if their plight are not addressed immediately.

“We will bring this municipality down. We cannot allow ourselves to be made fools by people we put into power and they only eat the money earmarked for development,” resident Mongezi Ngaleka said. 

“We will bring down this town and there would be no voting here on May 8. For years now we have been diligently voting and voting the ANC but it is now clear that this organisation does not care about us,” he said.

Several attempts to get a comment from Umzimkhulu municipal manager Zweliphantsi Sikhosana were unsuccessful.

On Sunday Mxolisi Kaunda, MEC for community safety, led a team consisting of Ravi Pillay, MEC for human settlement, Mluleki Ndobe, the mayor of the Harry Gwala district municipality, and other officials to try to mollify the angry residents and bring back stability to the beleaguered town.

Kaunda pleaded with locals community members to use proper  communication channels instead of taking to the streets and burning property.

“I have also requested the local police to investigate thoroughly the case of the shootings, which injured several protesters and killed one protester. All those who were arrested for damaging public property will face criminal charges,” Kaunda said, adding that the number of police officers deployed in the area had been increased.