PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - While the dust is settling over the chaos that reigned in Plettenberg Bay last week when several communities staged violent service delivery and housing protests, authorities and businesses have started counting the costs, which some believe could be up to R40-million.
The usually tranquil town descended into pandemonium last Tuesday when eQolweni residents started the action by blocking the N2 near Rastas with burning tyres and other debris and pelting passing motorists with stones.
Other communities join in
During the following few days the action escalated to include protests from other communities too, including New Horizons and Green Valley residents.
Traffic was redirected through Airport Road for most of the action, which only ended around Friday 5 July, with the N2 being reopened a day later.
According to reports, not only were workers prevented to go to work during this time, but protesters also went on to target businesses in mostly the town's industrial area. This resulted in large-scale looting and vandalism. The Bitou youth and sports development office was one of the targets. "It was looted, ransacked and set alight," said municipal spokesperson Manfred van Rooyen.
Private security hired
Some businesses had to employ private security to protect themselves against further attacks. Wayne Craig from Robberg Fine Foods confirmed that they were one of the businesses that was "hit" on Wednesday. "It was however nothing compared to what happened to the other companies. Our loss of income was of big concern for the three days as we could not do any deliveries," Craig said.
He added that they had to hire a security company from Port Elizabeth to secure their business during the time.
Many businesses also had to close their doors as a safety precaution and due to staff not being able to get to work.
The municipality also closed its administrative offices and evacuated three councillors as a precautionary measure.
Major losses suffered
Marius Venter from the Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers' Association said it is estimated that the financial losses during this period were between R30- and R40-million. This not only includes direct damage and loss of business, but also the loss in wages of those who could not work during the time.
This, Venter said, does not include the damage caused to the town's image as a tourist destination – a major concern as the town's biggest economic driver is tourism.
There have been reports from accommodation establishments of tourists having been terrified and vowing never to return to Plett as a result.
Plettenberg Bay Crime Prevention Association (PBCPA) operations head Otto Olivier said one could not call the chain of events last week a service delivery protest. "It was without a doubt riots with criminal intent. The adverse impact on our town will be felt for many months to come," Olivier said.
Damage to livelihoods
He added that what the protesters managed to achieve through their actions was damage many people's livelihoods. "They also caused damage to the Plett holiday destination brand as well as incredible damage to the poorest of the poor. They were deprived of their daily remuneration, which is their only source of income to provide food for their family. Many single parents could not put bread on their tables the last couple of days."
Olivier added that the protesters also caused major damage to businesses.
"Some were completely destroyed and some will not reopen." He said the action caused "incredible damage to job security and availability".
"They caused massive damage to the employed workforce. Some will lose their jobs as some businesses cannot recover from the damage incurred during the riots. Some businesses will have no other options but to reduce their staff numbers to keep their businesses afloat," he said.
"The workers' loss of income can never be recovered; they will fail to meet their commitments in the months and days to come."
Over and above the financial losses, Olivier believes the action also led to the deaths of several people and injuries to many others.
One of the victims was an elderly New Horizons resident Helen Jansen who died from respiratory failure after what is believed to have been prolonged inhalation of teargas.
Another victim was Haydee de Doncker from Port Elizabeth who is fighting for her life in the Mediclinic George, after protesters pelted her and her husband's vehicle with bricks.
Three others died and 43 were injured in a bus accident on the Airport Road. The incident occurred just after 03:00 on Friday when the bus was redirected as a result of the N2 action. The driver lost control due to a wet road surface due to rain.
"Worst of all is the incredible damage to our Bitou community," Olivier said. "Just imagine the anguish the innocent had to endure listening to the continuous shooting, the fear instilled with the relentless daily victimisation, the broken trust, broken relationships and emotional wounds, this is totally unforgivable. The wasted days of destruction and looting might have enriched a few looters, but it most certainly took the focus away from of the real issues – housing and recreation facilities that were promised by the municipality, but were never delivered."
'We bring you the latest Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route news'