Durban protests become violent

Canaan Mdletshe

The Inkatha Freedom Party's march against name changes in Durban turned ugly yesterday when angry protesters assaulted members of the public and vandalised and looted shops in the city centre.

Two marchers were arrested and police have warned the organisers that they could also be charged with public violence.

The chaos began as early as 2am in Umlazi when a large group of armed IFP supporters gathered on Mangosuthu Highway because they believed the road's name would be changed yesterday.

They burnt tyres, cut down trees, barricaded the road and pelted parked and passing vehicles with stones. Shots were fired into the air.

Car owners complained that they had firearms pointed at them as they were driving along the highway.

"We were asked to participate in the march and when we refused we were threatened," said one motorist.

During the main march in the city, thousands of IFP supporters brought traffic to a standstill. The few shops that were opened on the public holiday were forced to close early.

However, chaos erupted as angry protesters went on the rampage and vandalised and looted shops. Police arrested some protesters while others ran amok on West Street, the city's main street.

City dwellers, especially near Albert Park, where the protest began, said they were assaulted and beaten. Dust bins were emptied and thrown into the streets.

Several gunshots were heard and a large contingent of police could not cope with the demonstrators. Reinforcements had to be called in.

Those arrested will face charges of malicious damage to property and theft, police spokesman Vincent Mdunge said.

A third charge of public violence would be investigated against the march organisers.

"The leaders will be held accountable for any actions by their supporters and, in this case, the IFP are the ones who applied to demonstrate and they will be held responsible for the damages and violence," said Mdunge.