The mayor of Ditsobotla is “unharmed” following the drama last night when he was taken hostage in a building that was on fire, and then bundled into a taxi.
A group of 32 aggrieved residents held Daniel Buthelezi in his office, demanding he make a binding service delivery commitment, while others set alight the council chamber.
Municipal spokesperson Pius Batsile said Buthelezi – and his two bodyguards – made it out of the ordeal unharmed.
He said the fire had gutted the council chambers but was put out before it completely covered the speaker’s office, which is next to the chamber.
“The group of about 35 residents came in and demanded a meeting with the mayor, which he agreed to. When they did not agree to his explanation they asked everyone to leave and held him hostage,” said Batsile.
The whole municipal office complex was evacuated apart from Buthelezi’s office.
As the fire raged, residents threatened to torch more sections of the building.
They would not accept Buthelezi’s explanation on how municipal service delivery programmes worked and how he could not make instant commitments without following processes.
Police negotiators made contact with Buthelezi’s hostage takers.
For hours, they would not agree to anything proposed by negotiators. They wanted Buthelezi to gather his executive managers and executive councillors so they could agree to the demands.
But eight hours later, after the flames were put out, the hostage takers changed tack and demanded two minibus taxis.
Their transport was organised and the hostage negotiators agreed to let them leave with Buthelezi. It was not clear what their intention was.
“Police pounced on them just a few streets away from the municipal offices and 32 residents between the ages of 24 and 52 were arrested,” said police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone.
Two knives were confiscated.
Mokgwabone added that the building had been cordoned off for forensic investigators and if there were any other weapons, they would be found.
The hostage drama happened just weeks after a police Nyala was torched in violent service delivery protests in Blydeville township in Lichtenburg.
Several areas of Ditsobotla, including Boikhutso and Itsoseng, were recently plunged into violent service delivery protests marked by looting and destruction.
“The people who held the mayor hostage said their area had been neglected and they wanted it prioritised. They would not accept the explanation that they were included in our plans,” Batsile said.
“We are currently conducting the Integrated Development Plan and budget consultations with communities, and nothing has been finalised. No one ever said they will be left out.”
The 32 arrested residents were slapped with charges of kidnapping, arson and attempted murder.
Mokgwabone said the last charge was included because by torching the building with Buthelezi inside they were endangering his life.