Protests spread in South African townships

BALFOUR, South Africa – Protesters hurled stones at police, who responded with teargas and rubber bullets, after thousands marched through South Africa's Thokoza township on Wednesday over poor services and unemployment.

The violent protests piled pressure on President Jacob Zuma to deliver on government promises of help for the poor three months after elections.

Protesters pelted cars with stones and blocked a highway near Johannesburg in the worst disturbances since Zuma took office, intensifying uncertainty after a wave of strikes and threats of industrial action in Africa’s biggest economy.

The unrest, with scenes reminiscent of violence against foreigners last year that killed 62 people, also undermines South Africa’s hope of showing a positive image with less than a year to go before the World Cup finals.

Protests turned violent for a second day in Johannesburg’s Thokoza township, where residents are demanding better housing and services. Thirty-five residents are due to appear in court.

Residents in Meyerton, south of Johannesburg, occupied farmland in invasions reminiscent of those in neighbouring Zimbabwe. They were protesting at being evicted from their temporary settlement.

In the northeastern region of Mpumalanga, residents in Balfour threatened to burn down municipal offices if 100 people arrested in protests on Tuesday were not released, Talk Radio 702 said.

Poor South Africans complain they have not seen the benefits since white minority rule ended 15 years ago. Zuma pledged to do more to help them as the main plank of the election manifesto of the ruling African National Congress. 

But the government is limited by South Africa’s first recession in 17 years, as a result of the global crisis, and is wary of any policies that might discourage local or foreign investment.

Trade unions, whose support was instrumental in Zuma’s rise to power, have also been flexing their muscles since he took office, with stoppages to demand more pay and threats of strikes in the world’s top platinum producer, also an important gold miner.