An Integrated Development Plan meeting descended into chaos on Thursday evening, with petrol bombs thrown, numerous vehicles damaged and parts of the N2 freeway being shut down for the evening.

“This culminated in last night’s horrific acts of violence and criminality at the Colchester meeting, where councillors’ vehicles were stoned, and petrol bombs thrown,” said councillor Nqaba Bhanga, who is standing in for Mayor Athol Trollip while he is away.

The meeting, which was being led by speaker of council, Jonathan Lawack, and chief whip Werner Senekal, descended into chaos shortly after it started, when a man wearing an Economic Freedom Fighters beret barged into the meeting and started shouting at Lawack. The speaker asked the man to leave, but another member took his place and continued to disrupt the meeting.

Attendees trapped inside hall

While the disruptions took place, a group descended on the hall and barricaded those attending inside.

Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge said around 200 unhappy residents had barricaded the perimeter gate to the premises with burning objects and had thrown rocks at the hall and the vehicles inside.

“Seven vehicles were damaged in the process,” he said.

Beetge said members of the public order policing unit had been called in and had to use rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and free the occupants of the hall.

N2 closed as protest spills over

Beetge said some of individuals had then moved onto the N2 and barricaded the road with burning tyres and thrown rocks at passing vehicles, which led to the closing of the road by law enforcement on both sides for the majority of the evening.

Beetge said a further nine vehicles, including trucks, had been damaged by protesters before the roads had been closed. He said no one had been injured in the incident, and that a case of public violence had been opened.

Member of the Mayoral Committee for Safety and Security John Best confirmed that the roads had been closed by the local and provincial traffic departments and that one person had been arrested, for setting a tyre alight on the N2.

“The tragedy is that these meetings are there to engage with the communities, to determine what their needs are, so that the municipality can assist them. Yes, councillors were attacked, but it is the poor people of the community who are the ones who actually suffer in the long term,” he said

Changes to IDP meetings going forward

The incident has highlighted a wider problem around the IDP meetings in Nelson Mandela Bay. Bhanga said that more than half of the IDP meetings already held had been disrupted and collapsed. He said, as a result, the way in which IDP meetings were facilitated and managed would change significantly from next week.

“The existing schedule of meetings will be amended, such that a larger number of staff and political leadership attend each meeting.

“Furthermore, the Safety and Security Directorate is busy preparing an intervention strategy that will ensure the safety of both residents and Metro officials,” he said.

Bhanga said the municipality would work closely with police to ensure that those responsible for Thursday night’s violence were arrested.

“The vast majority of residents wish to participate productively and positively in government’s budget planning. It is a very small minority of people who are attempting to ruin this entire public participation process,” he said.

“Those causing the chaos are often seen wearing ANC branded clothing. It is clear that these are planned, politically-motivated interruptions, which will not be tolerated,” he said.

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