A protest march in the Newcastle central business district against the newly implemented Traffic Management System and the recent increase in municipal rates, failed to go ahead on Friday as planned. The protest organised by the Moonlight Business Hub (MBH) was called off at the last minute after it was deemed “unsafe” for protesters.

A similar march took place last month in which a memorandum was handed over to the municipality detailing the concerns of the Newcastle business sector together with residents and the Car Guard Association (CGA). Despite being given seven days to respond, the municipality failed resulting in a second planned march. Initially, the gathering point for protesters on Friday was the ANC offices in Harding Street.

Advocate Mzwandile Simelane, on behalf of the MBH, said that the march was cancelled after they received information that authorities were on “high alert” and allegedly “ready to arrest” protesters. “The lives of people matter, therefore we did not want to take the risk. We heard that there was a large contingency on stand-by to protect the powers that be. I don’t know why the need for heavy security and why they are indulging in service delivery matters when this was meant to be a peaceful march,” he said.

Simelane explained that the ANC offices were chosen as the starting point as the Newcastle Municipality was ANC run. “The caucus is mainly ANC members and as such, many decisions taken are politically motivated. Since the municipality failed to respond to our memorandum, we are now coming to the ANC building to call on the chairperson of the region, who is also the mayor, to respond.”

Simelane together with colleague Lindokuhle Mthanti, community activist Solly Maharaj
and members of the CGA, proceeded to the ANC building to address their concerns. However, the group was met with some resistance. Shortly after entering the building, the group was asked to leave and wait outside as the “cleaner needed to mop the floors”. Tempers flared as the group was forced outside the office with threats that the Public Order Protection Unit would be called in to handle the matter. A short while later, Simelane and Mthanti were called back in and met briefly with the Emalahleni regional secretary, Chris Mhlope. Meanwhile, chaos erupted outside as some members of the public entering the building took verbal swipes at members of the CGA. Threats of violent outbreaks loomed as arguments escalated.

“Mhlope, Simelane and Mthanti left the meeting in an attempt to diffuse the situation before returning. The outcome of the meeting a short while later saw Simelane brief the gathering outside. According to the regional secretary, the mayor has been on leave and will only return to work on 26 August. He says they are aware of who we are and what our concerns are but were unable to respond as the mayor was away. However, he has promised to meet with the mayor later today and brief him on what is going on and they will contact us next week with a meeting date,” said Simelane.

He said that they would give the municipality seven days in which to make contact, failing which they would escalate matters. “We will go to national authorities as we believe that the province is in cahoots with the local leadership. I don’t understand why they are running away from this matter. I am a member of the ANC myself but I can say they are treating people just like the apartheid government did and are only thinking of themselves. We will not rest until we get answers and see action.”

Meanwhile, a large continent of SAPS officers arrived together with traffic officials. “While crime takes place elsewhere, police are gathered here to watch over us, we have been peaceful, are we now criminals for standing up for ourselves? Just seeing how quickly the police have arrived shows just how much power these politicians wield even over the authorities,” said Simelane. Maharaj, who initiated a public meeting to address the massive increase the crippling municipal bills have on the community, said that a committee will be formed in this week to take matters forward.

“For us, this is not a political matter, rather a concern of each and every business person and resident of Newcastle. These increases will cripple the business sector forcing them to close shop and will lead to major job losses. We need to act now in order to avoid this from happening. Newcastle is not being run correctly. Decisions are being taken without proper consultation and no one is looking at the bigger picture,” said Maharaj. He added that more and more people were unable to pay their monthly utility bill. He urged the municipality to look into a speedy solution.