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The northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Manguzi — located a few kilometres from the Kosi Bay border post separating SA and Mozambique — came to a standstill for a fourth successive day on Monday as protesters locked it down, demanding that authorities address their unhappiness about cross-border crime.
Residents here say that for more than 20 years they have been victims of bold cross-border and crime syndicates who are stealing cars and other goods and spiriting them over the border to Mozambique.
The first protest took place on Friday, where hundreds of protesters descended on the border post and blocked the entrance with the vehicles, stones and other debris. Police responded by attacking protesters with batons and throwing teargas canisters. Between Friday and Sunday, nine protesters were arrested and charged with public violence and 20 vehicles impounded. The nine were released and their vehicles were released by the Manguzi Magistrate Court. They were ordered to present themselves in court on February 8.
This did not deter protesters from closing down the town on Monday and preventing children from going to school. Only those going to the local clinics and hospital were allowed to pass through the impromptu barricades erected by angry residents at several intersections of the town.
Protesters said the crime syndicates were working hand in hand with some members of the local police to spirit vehicles, especially bakkies, vans and 4x4s, over the border to Mozambique. Some of these stolen vehicles belonged to government agencies, including hospitals, clinics, various government departments and even the police.
Sipho “Judas” Mthethwa, said the angry protests came after several government promises over the years to try and stop cross-border crime syndicates.
“This cross-border crime has been ongoing for more than 20 years and it is not that we have not been talking to government and alerting it on how these syndicates operate and how they can get rid of them [crime syndicates]. But every time government officials arrive here, [they] make promises and disappear. We have to endure the acts of these syndicates,” he said.
Mthethwa painted a picture of the border areas of being like the Wild West, where all types of crime take place. “The syndicates just arrive and demand that you hand over your vehicle as if they had borrowed it [from] you. Anything goes and the syndicates tell you straight they are not scared of the police because many of the officers are on their payroll,” he said.
Sizwe Gumede, one of the protesters, agreed. “Last year alone they arrested 18 police offices from Manguzi and Golela, the SA-Swaziland border post, because these officers were working with the criminal syndicates. That tells you how much these crime syndicates have infiltrated the police. There are many other officers who are still working with these criminals,” he said.
Mxolisi Kaunda, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for community safety and liaison, denied that the government was not doing anything about crime in Manguzi and the surrounding areas. “Last year we upgraded the local police and added more than 45 new officers to work here. If people are not satisfied, they must not take to the street but must work with us to eliminate the problem. Closing down the border post does not solve anything. We are working with our counterparts from Mozambique to find a solution to these problems and things will not happen overnight.
Kaunda said that he would lead a KwaZulu-Natal government delegation that would travel to Manguzi to speak with the local community, the local businesses and other stakeholders to try to find a solution to the escalating cross-border crime.
Meanwhile, leaders of the protest say there will be huge gathering in Manguzi on Tuesday to demonstrate to the government that they are fed up about this issue. “There would be no school, we will close down the border [post] until government accedes to our demand and starts working [with] their Mozambican counterparts to tackle these syndicates,” said Sipho Mabika, one of the organisers.Source: Business Live