Angry residents are refusing to back down from their demands unless the Newcastle Municipality addresses the massive increases in rates and utility bills.

Protests brought the town to a standstill as they blocked major exit and entry points from as early as 3am on Monday. Nobody could leave the area and children stayed home from school while many did not go to work. Tyres were burned in retaliation to the municipal increases, among other issues.

Protestors gathered at Trim Park on Monday at 6am to engage in a peaceful march while where a motorcade proceeded to the municipal building. Traffic officials, SAPS and emergency services were on stand-by. This was undoubtedly about the biggest protest march to take place in the town as residents vowed to intensify their efforts if they did not see results.

Monday’s action follows a public meeting the day before at Trim Park.

At the meeting that was initiated by businessmen and residents of Newcastle, Thabo Sibeko and Mduduzi Mnisi, residents complained of an “abnormally high” increases in rates as well as the rates being generally higher than other towns and cities.

The meeting was also sparked by a recent notice that Eskom would cut power to Newcastle for an extended period or until the municipality settled its high bill with the parastatal.

Under the spotlight at the Sunday meeting was the municipal and Eskom tariffs, property valuation, reconnection electricity fee, “confusing” statements”, hidden device in meters, parking meters, water cuts in Madadeni and geyser control, among other things.

Irate residents vowed to shut down Newcastle if their demands  were not met. Residents called for Eskom to take over the supply of electricity to the town.

Said Mnisi said at the meeting: “For too long we have been taken advantage of. We pay our bills every month without complaint, so where is our money going? We are subjected to ridiculous increases, how can we afford to pay anymore?”

Residents have taken a resolution not to pay the added increases but rather the old accounts until the issue is resolved. Many residents aired their grievances, questioning the future of Newcastle’s economy, job losses and corruption within the municipality.

A comparison of rates and tariffs was done by residents between Newcastle and other town’s and cities. Their findings indicated that Newcastle paid the highest on all their utility bills.

“We will not pay for the municipality’s mess. Down with tariffs, down with rates, down with high reconnection and connection fees, no longer will we keep quiet,” Mnisi warned.

Another resident said that the municipality should visit areas such as Dicks, Osizweni and Blauuwbosch and collect rates from those home owners before attempting to rip off the residents of Newcastle. “In the eyes of the law we are all equal. Let them start their collections there. If they are successful then they can come to us,” said residents.

Residents at Sunday’s meeting called for the municipality to be put under administration. “The residents are calling for the Municipality to be put under administration in order for issues to be resolved. The current management is doing nothing to resolve the grievances put forward by the residents of the town.

“The councillors supposed to be the eyes are ears of the people but are failing to serve the people of the town. With the high rates and taxes, people will be discouraged to continue with business in Newcastle. The situation will not attract new investors but rather chase them away,” said residents. The meeting called for a peaceful march to the municipal offices.

A memorandum of demands was handed over to Newcastle Municipality deputy mayor Reuben Molelekoa.