Police teargas land seekers

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LETLHAKANE: Police and hungry land seekers traded blows last week as a desperate five-year wait for plot allocation in the area boiled over into uncontrollable chaos.

Throngs of villagers had gathered at the Letlhakane Sub-Land Board premises on Friday to apply for residential plots, with some saying the last time the land authority accepted applications was five years ago.

Residents who travelled through the night to the venue to enhance their chances of success, soon grew irate at what they termed ‘tardy’ service by the Sub-Land Board officials.

Under the scorching heat of the sun, villagers complained of being ignored by officials who they accused tossed them from pillar to post, as tensions increased.

Although officials appeared to be doing their best to assist, land seekers who had long been waiting in the queue finally lost their cool and began shouting and threatening to break into the premises by force. Others vowed to vandalise Sub-Land Board vehicles and smash gates at the offices.

The crowd ignored Sub-Land Board assistant chairperson, Ketshabamang Kethanyegile’s pleas for calm and patience. The riot police soon appeared on the scene armed with whips, guns and knobkerries. Police fired tear gas in the crowd when they realised that the situation was getting out of control.

The tear gas in turn resulted in villagers running for cover and screaming in fear. There were complaints that police had unleashed tear gas without regard for babies, pregnant women and elderly people in the mob.

Some people retaliated by throwing missiles at the police. Several people were arrested after the incident and charged with common nuisance.

Letlhakane Police Station commander, Albert Foda justified the police’s response saying that using teargas was the last and best resort. “We were called to the scene in the afternoon (on Friday). We wanted to control the crowd peacefully, but we did not succeed because the crowd was becoming violent. That is when we decided to use teargas,” he explained.

Foda denied that the teargas jeopardised the health of babies and pregnant women who were reportedly in the crowd. “Only one canister of tear gas was fired with greater caution just to disperse the crowd and we were certain there would be little harm the way the operation was done,” he explained.

Meanwhile, though there was no comment from the Land Board officials by yesterday, the situation was said to have returned to normal.

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