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    Posted July 27, 2015 by
    Port Elizabeth, South Africa
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Protests around the world

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    Peaceful protest turns violent in friendly South African city


    South Africa - A planned protest against the closure of 33 schools, has resulted in violent clashes between residents and police in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay. The protests came after teachers, fed-up parents, and pupils decided to take their plight for more teachers, and other related issues to the streets of PE on Monday, 27 July 2015. Danny Jordaan, president of the South African Football Association, is the executive mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay.

    The planned protest in the Coloured neighbourhood quickly escalated into violent clashes between police and stone throwing protesters. According to Clayton Goezaar, a photographer from Shift Photography, suspected gangsters and police were firing at each other in the troubled Helenvale area. He said the police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas to disperse the crowds in Stanford Road. Police vehicles and that of residents were damaged by petrol bombs and stones in a city widely known as “the friendly city”. Port Elizabeth is situated in the Eastern Cape, the province with the highest unemployment rate  in South Africa.

    Today for the first time in my life, I heard a bullet flying over my head,” a visibly shaken Goezaar said. He took a photo of residents posing with what appeared to look like shells of 9mm bullets. In another photo, two police officers were pictured armed with side pistols. The police however, has denied the use of live ammunition against protesters.

    Ricardo Korkee, a poet and former resident said, “What is happening in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth is bigger than overcrowded classes and unpaid teachers. It's about a community, a certain section of society whose cries have been constantly neglected whilst those in charge have done absolutely nothing. I am totally against violent protests, but for too long have we been silenced.” Many residents believe that the rioting was long overdue and was triggered by dissatisfaction with the living conditions in Coloured areas. “Unemployment, the lack of facilities and inadequate schools seem to be just some of the real causes of the trouble," a student from Arcadia said. “This is just the beginning,” an unidentified woman remarked.

    “When it’s election time, the ANC government makes empty promises in exchange for our Coloured vote. The closing of the schools was just the spark that set off this fireworks,” an emotional teacher who asked to remain anonymous, said. Several shops have been closed after reports of looting in Gelvandale, Arcadia, and in West End. The riots raised fears of the bloodshed and anarchy during the deadly riots of 1990 that also started as a peaceful march. The violent 5-day battle ended with the deaths of more than 50 people and over 400 injured.

    Local business was affected with low turnout of staff after taxi drivers joined the protest that brought part of Nelson Mandela Bay to a standstill. The impact was felt in other parts of the city and at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where the attendance of lectures at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University were impacted. The university experienced staff and student shortages, and cafeterias were unable to open because staff have not been able to get to work.

    Loyiso Pulumani, the Provincial Education Department spokesperson, said they were highly perturbed by the escalation of violence especially in light of the previous night's successful meeting. He said the Department has agreed to advertise all vacant posts, and that all school principals must convene on Tuesday to meet with Eastern Cape Education MEC, Mandla Makupula.


    History proves that it’s always the innocent that suffers most during protests. The 1990 riots saw thousands of people going on the rampage, but it did not end well. Many shops were burnt to the ground and precious lives lost. Let’s hope for a peaceful end, and a resolution that will benefit the innocent children caught up in this chaotic situation.


    iReporter: Selwyn Milborrow
    Pictures: Clayton Goezaar, Shift Photography

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