Businesses reach common ground with protestors

BUSINESSES REACTS: Businesses are set to resume operations tomorrow morning following two-day shutdown in Komani    Picture: ZINTLE BOBELO

Business owners and the Civic Ratepayers Association of Enoch Mgijima met with members of the Komani Protest Action group on Friday requesting that businesses be allowed to open again, amid the two-day total shutdown.

Businesses had hoped to resume operations by 1pm today but after holding talks with the protest group’s leaders, it was agreed they could open again from tomorrow.

The mood between the parties has since shifted, with both agreeing to work together toward a common goal.

On Thursday, the business community was angry after businesses were forced to close and some operators were threatened.

The protesters felt only a total shutdown would be effective in gaining national attention and hopefully getting top officials to listen to their grievances and demand that Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) be dissolved.

Meanwhile, business owners complained of having incurred losses during the two-day shutdown.

Added to this, they were struggling with the effects of Eskom load-shedding and EMLM power outages during the festive season.

Border Kei Chamber of Business administrator Adre Bartis said the business sector understood the service delivery woes that Komani residents had been faced with for years.

She said the total shutdown by frustrated residents was indicative of how dire the situation was.

However, Bartis said the chamber condemned that businesses had been forced to close, saying it infringed on people’s rights.

She said: “Businesses are in support of the march for the municipal issues to be resolved and for us to receive proper service delivery from the local government.

“We are condemning the act of forcing businesses to close and march in solidarity with the protesters.

“People have freedom and rights in this country. You cannot have businesses which have been struggling for so long, running on generators, and expect them to close operations for two days straight.”

Bartis added that some workers who were paid daily had also suffered.

“The businesses that have been running on generators have just received electricity yesterday and for the first time in Top Town were asked to close.”

She said on top of load-shedding and EMLM power outages, many businesses had been struggling to just break even.

Bartis added that businesses had not been approached with a request to close but were instead forced to shut.

Some business owners had also been mistreated when forced to close.

“In some cases, people were very rude, they were threatened.

“Others in the shops were told you will either be looted or you will close.

“That is not how we stand together for Komani. The call was for Komani to stand together.

“On Thursday morning everybody was united.“If they had sent out a form of communication to the businesses to say ‘look we are having a march, can you please send your staff to join us’ that would be understandable.”

After businesses were forced to shut on Thursday, the normally busy Protea SPAR parking lot was empty, except for the three security guards on duty until 9pm.

On Thursday evening, the queues were busy at the two petrol stations in Griffiths Street, with motorists queuing up for fuel.

An anonymous petrol attendant at one of the two petrol stations said: “Our gas stations are busy because some of the gas stations in town are closed.”

Twizza and Crickley owner and The Independents councillor, Ken Clark, said they had no issue with the protest provided it was conducted peacefully.

​However, he said businesses should not have been forced to close and had a right to conduct business just as protesters were allowed to protest.

“Our businesses have suffered enough with load-shedding and this municipality cannot fix the electricity.

“We are sick and tired of it and we understand the frustrations of the people, but they must respect the right of others as well.

“I have heard people say they could not deliver certain goods because they had electricity issues,” Clark said.

However, after negotiating with the protest leaders at the Hexagon in Cathcart Road earlier today, where they had reached common ground, he said the business sector and the residents were fighting for the same cause.

“We have to work together. We want to fix this town.

“We do not want to live in a pigsty where nothing works, and everyone is trying to meet that goal.

“It is one step at a time, there is no magic wand, but we need the people to support us,” Clark said.

Queenstown Ratepayers Association chairperson, Dr Pieter Prinsloo, said: “It is a pity we did not meet with the leadership in a closed boardroom meeting before the march because they have now admitted to us that some things got out of hand.

“It is not easy to control a big crowd. There are always people who will misbehave and threaten businesses.

“The message was for businesses to close to prevent damages.

“We have agreed now that as the businesses and ratepayers, we will sit down with them because we have the same goal.

“We also want to dissolve this municipality, we want change to come.

“We had legal counsel this morning where we got advice and we are planning to write a letter to the minister of finance.”

In response, Solomzi Nkwentsha, one of the Komani residents’ representatives, said the protest would not have drawn the attention of national leaders if the economic activity had continued as usual.

“The people who are working for businesses are the community members, who needed to form part of the strike,” he said.

Nkwentsha said the group had engaged with the Border Kei Chamber of Business.

“We are pleading with the business owners, we know this is a very tough time for them.

“Our protest is not against businesses but against the officials who are responsible.

“We said it would be difficult for businesses to open at 1pm.

“If we tell the people the businesses are open, the crowd will disperse which will also open a chance for people to loot.”

He said they had also told business owners that they needed their employees and customers to join the strike, to intensify their efforts.

He said letters had been sent to the Department of Education and schools, notifying them of the total shutdown.

“The department of education said they have no problem with the protest provided it is not a violent protest. The children will be back at school on Monday.”

Nkwentsha said: “The EMLM national cabinet representative Dr Monde Tom said he has passed on the state of the municipality report to Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and to finance minister Enoch Godongwana and that there was nothing he could do.”

Protestors dispersed after Komani residents’ leaders’ engagement with provincial Cogta MEC Zolile Williams.