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No mercy, no grants, says Mkhize
24 Jul 2009
Nalini Naidoo, Sharlene Packree and Sapa

POLITICAL parties, the eThekwini Municipality and KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize have condemned the looting of two Durban stores by the SA Unemployed People’s Movement, saying that this type of “anarchy” will not be tolerated.

Hundreds of illegal protesters burst into the Shoprite Checkers store in Anton Lembede Street and Pick n Pay in the Workshop Shopping Centre on Wednesday and emptied groceries into shopping trolleys. The looters wanted the Basic Income Grant (BIG) extended to all people and unless this happens, they are going to continue looting, they warned.

Armed with traditional weapons, the looters threatened security guards and staff during the rampage. Police were called in and arrested more than 100 people. They were charged with illegal gathering and theft.

The premier was responding to questions on Wednesday’s rampage during a media briefing yesterday morning before delivering his budget speech.

Yesterday, there was high drama at the Durban Magistrate’s Court, where the looters made a brief appearance for the theft charges. While first appearances for criminal cases take place in Court 10, the matter was heard in the basement of the building so that all the suspects could be accommodated.

Journalists were not told that the matter had been moved to the basement and waited several hours to report on the case. The media were allowed to see the charge sheet after the group had appeared.

The movement’s spokeswoman, Nozipho Mteshane, said members of her organisation will ask for free bail and deny the charge of theft, stemming from Wednesday’s spree, which took place in Shoprite Checkers and Pick n Pay outlets.

“We were not stealing. We were just demonstrating. Taking food from the shops was a way of showing government that unemployed people are hungry. We stormed shops after other attempts of appealing for assistance failed.”

Mteshane said they have written many letters to the government and also submitted memorandums asking for basic income grants for unemployed people. She claimed that her organisation represents “millions” of unemployed South Africans.

She vowed to continue organising similar protests, saying the state cannot afford to keep all members of her organisation in jails. “We will make sure that the soccer world cup is spoiled if our demands are not met.”

Mkhize condemned the actions of the looters, saying there is no reason for people who are unemployed to break the law, invade other property and endanger lives. This behaviour is not consistent with the new democratic dispensation, Mkhize said. He added that the looters and those who organised Wednesday’s pillage must take responsibility for their actions.

Mkhize said distributing the grant to all people will bankrupt the government and there has already been widespread debate the feasibility of such a step. He added that handouts also act as a disincentive and that government was looking at assistance in the form of skills development that will empower people instead of leaving them trapped into being forever dependent on handouts.

The premier said his government is sympathetic to the plight of the unemployed, but looting and unruly behaviour under the guise of putting pressure on government is not going to work. He pleaded with all those involved not to continue with this approach.

ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said that Wednesday’s incident smacked of “opportunism” and believes that criminals were using the protest to commit theft. “While we understand that many of our people are struggling to make ends meet and that the economic downturn has made matters worse we cannot condone … acts of thuggery,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Local Government and Traditional Affairs, Willies Mchunu, has also expressed concerns over the looting; he said that government had clear policies addressing hunger, want and underdevelopment.

“AS due process of the law takes its course, we hope a strong message will be sent out to all that looting is a punishable crime,” he said.

“Let us engage more even if it means agreeing on how to protest against each other in the spirit of cooperative governance. I call upon the leadership of the SA Unemployed People’s Movement to engage with us on these matters,” said Mchunu.

Meanwhile, city Mayor Obed Mlaba confirmed that the city did receive a memorandum from the Unemployed People’s Movement:

“Even if the government were to make a decision … today, there is a long process that needs to be followed before the act could be passed. So it can not be done within two weeks,” Mlaba said.

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