The community in Pilgrim’s Rest rose in protest on July 19th against inaction and broken promises by the Mpumalanga Provincial Government. “Pilgrim’s Rest is in ICU,” said Lisa Sheard, Manager of Kruger Lowveld Tourism, at a meeting a few years back. With the strike, the community called a Code Red – the town needs immediate advanced life support.
The protest action started before dawn and by the time some residents needed to travel to other towns, all the roads out of Pilgrim’s were blocked by stones, burning branches and other objects. Business owners were warned not to open their shops. In the end, the police, including the Public Order Protection Unit, barred the protesters from entering the village.
The protest followed two unanswered memoranda to the Mpumalanga Premier and another to the central government. The flashpoint was the news that a further three businesses were closing and that the awarding of the tenders was once again being extended by two months. “The shops must open tomorrow! We need jobs, we need money and we need food – we are hungry,” said one of the protestors. A further cause of anger was a communication that houses promised to the community ten months ago was no longer being built but that they would be relocated to Graskop.
The strike was agreed to at a community meeting on July 17th. After the threatening early morning action, Gilliam Mashego, MEC for Public Works, Roads and Transport agreed to meet with the protesters. He arrived at around 12:00 and the meeting were held on the R533 – which had been blocked for hours by the waiting but calm protesters on the one side and the police on the other.
The main outcome was a promise by Mashego that the tender adjudication committee would complete their work by Tuesday, July 24th. This begs the question why they had asked for an extension for another two months. The successful bidders would be informed the following day when he would also personally provide feedback and listen to grievances at a formal community meeting.
The protest broke up peacefully when the MEC left after which the SAPS took it upon themselves to clear the debris off the roads.