Fri. Jul 19th, 2019

How a salamander called Rokkie calmed a protest in South Africa

south africa protests turffonteinA pet salamander called Rokkie became the unlikely hero of diffusing tension during a protest in Turffontein, South Africa, on Tuesday.

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Dozens of residents in the working class Turffontein suburb blocked the main road through ward 55, burning tyres, mattresses and tree branches over allegedly unfair allocation of new social housing nearby.

Plumes of acrid smoke filled the air as women danced and chanted by the roadside.

“Our ward councillor doesn’t assist us,” said resident Helen Sneyers of the area’s Democratic Alliance (DA) representative.

The DA, in opposition nationally, will face off against the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in polls defined by persistent shortcomings in the delivery of basic services like social housing, electricity and healthcare.

There have been dozens of similar protests nationwide as communities attempt to gain attention ahead of the vote.

Daniel Monchusi of the South African National Civic Organisation said residents were angry because the area’s affordable homes were being given to people “from outside ward 55”.

“We’re fighting for people from around here,” said the campaigner who wore an ANC baseball cap.

A group of 20 young men, cheered on by crowds of older women, weaved in and out of ageing apartment blocks to dodge police who fired teargas and rubber bullets.

“They’re dogs,” said one of the women who watched on as police opened fire.

Protester Leroy Meryan, 27, said authorities “don’t care” about poor housing as men around him hurled rocks and built barricades on the main road.

A salamander called Rokkie to the rescue

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A man carries his pet, a salamander called “Rokkie”, in Johannesburg, on 23 April 2019 during a protest against the lack of service delivery or basic necessities. Photo: MARCO LONGARI / AFP

Tempers cooled when a car ran over a plastic box containing a pet salamander named Rokkie belonging to a protester clad in a leather jacket.

The amphibian was unhurt and the crowd began to drift away as the sun set over the layered golden mounds of earth displaced by mining that dot Johannesburg.

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