A drizzle that fails to put out fires in protest-torn Tembisa

Reading Time: 9 minutes

All hell broke loose once again in Tembisa as scores of angry protesters stormed away from an address by Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements, Urban Planning, Cooperative Governance, and Traditional Affairs Lebogang Maile at the Mehlareng Stadium in Tembisa on Wednesday afternoon. 

“We don’t want you. We want the Mayor,” screams one of the protesters as the crowd breaks into song. 

On Monday, Tembisa residents brought the township to a standstill, blockading major roads, and shutting down entry and exit points, preventing many from going to work. At the heart of their grievances are what they say are unreasonably high electricity bills and rates and the municipality’s unilateral decision to stop the provision of subsidised electricity to indigent households. 

Maile took it upon himself to visit the township to restore calm in the area, while Ekurhuleni Mayor Tania Campbell visited the families of those who died during the violent Monday protests.  

However, his visit seemed to do the exact opposite as residents rejected his explanation that the municipality would not be able to address their concerns without Treasury and Eskom coming to the party. 

A cloud of black dust rises from the ground as a car drives over the remnants of burnt tyres on the RTJ Namane Drive in Tembisa. This, as the protesters occupy the street. However, a light drizzle soon wets the ground turning into ash mud the little heaps of burnt tyre remains. But the drizzle is not strong enough to put out the fires that have ravaged the protest-torn township leaving, in its wake, a police station and municipal building in ashes. 

It is back at one, as angry residents, hurling all sorts of expletives at Maile, throw whatever they can lay their hands on onto the wet tarred street surfaces and within a few moments the street is laden with stones and debris and the smell of burning tyre is back in the air. 

“You see, how soon it takes to close down the street,” says one of the protesters, who chuckles as he says, “Just call me Zakes” when asked for his full name. 

The protesters reignite their mission to render the township ungovernable yet again in a bit to put pressure on authorities to accede to their demands, as they embark on a plus-minus 10-kilometre walk of destruction through Tsenelong section to Tlamatlama, Moriting, Mqantsha, Emoyeni, Madelakufa and into Endulwini section.  

“I am a PAC member and there is no way I can sit at home when other community members are fighting for all of us here,” says Zakes.  

“My brother, these people do not respect us. Our parents have been paying. They have passed on and we are still paying. And it is not like we want things for free. But the amounts we are now being charged are crazy. We can’t afford them and now Maile comes here only to tell us that there is nothing that they can do because they are not the ones increasing electricity and rates. So, why did he come here? Did he think telling us they can’t help was going to help?”


Itumeleng Kwebu says the cost of living has just skyrocketed and they are not coping. She says despite using a gas stove to cook, her family buys R500 worth of electricity which only lasts just over a week. 

Sabotage claims… 

Speaking to SABC News on Monday, Tania Campbell hinted at possible elements of political sabotage saying, “What we is transpiring today has not resonated from the Tembisa Community Forum. What this is, are elements of political interference and also of criminality.” She likened the current Tembisa protest to the July Unrest that ravaged parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last year. 

Zakes believes while there are real issues affecting the community of Tembisa, there is also an element of political interference against the DA-run municipality. 

“This is sabotage from the ANC to the DA. The EFF made sure that the ANC lose the municipality, but gave it to the DA, knowing that whoever takes the municipality was going to be sabotaged by the ANC and they would lose votes. So, this lady (Tania Campbell) walked into a trap when she became Mayor.” 

Throughout the day the protest carried on without any intervention from the police. In three instances a police vehicle emerged it seemed to have been by mistake as on all occassions they quickly turned away and the protest continued unabatedly. 

Tembisa Community Forum distrust… 

Following a meeting between Campbell and the Tembisa Community Forum (TCF) on Monday, the forum called the protests off and called on law enforcement officials to arrest whoever was found blockading roads in Tembisa.  

Despite that call, some parts of the township experienced continued protests on Tuesday and Wednesday with threats to carry on until their demands were met and even take the protest to the R21 highway. 

Speaking to some of the protesters it is easy to pick an element of distrust on the ground as many feel the TCF is now colluding with the municipality. 

Mercy, who stays in Emfuyaneni, says they want to choose their new representatives to negotiate on their behalf.

“TCF is nowhere to be found. We are doing this without them. We are just the community and we don’t know where TCF is. Who knows? Maybe they paid them to kill the strike because now we are told we must sit at home and wait for Friday. For what? I mean just yesterday they cut off our electricity. We are in the dark as we speak. What is that? So, right now, we must be honest, TCF cannot negotiate for us. We must choose people who are going to negotiate for us.” 

Tembisa, meaning Promise, was founded in 1957 when the black people who stayed in places like Edenvale, Kempton Park and Midrand were evicted and relocated to this area, as the then apartheid government intensified its segregation laws. It became a beacon of hope to those who found themselves without homes and Tembisa was born. 

One of the families relocated from Edenvale to Tembisa was that of Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi and some of the prominent people to come out this township include, among others, musician Lady Zamar, former footballers, Jerry Sikhosana and Lerato Chabangu, as well as current Mamelodi Sundowns midfield maestro, Themba Zwane. 

As dark sets in, murmurs of looting can be heard from some of the young members of the protest. Suddenly, a police van emerges from the other street, and then it gets pelted with stones before it speeds off to safety. 

The street lights are off owing to some parts of the township being without power since Tuesday according to the protesters. Only lights from cars which are – one after the other – forced to make a U-turn at a blockaded intersection and fire from burning tyres are the only sources of some dim illumination in Endulwini section. But the sounds of rocks of different sizes can still be heard as they land on the tarred street surfaces, and the situation feels more volatile and dangerous with every passing minute.