JOHANNESBURG – Protesters in South Africa burned tires and piled rocks across the road leading to the Soweto home of the late Nelson Mandela on Wednesday, in a demonstration against electricity bills.
Residents blocked the streets of the Soweto neighborhood that was once home to anti-apartheid icons Mandela and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, and now a popular tourist spot in Johannesburg. Police fired rubber bullets at some residents to disperse them, police spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane said. No injuries were reported or arrests made. Among the protesters were elderly residents, said Mamonyane.
Residents were opposing the power utility's billing system change from a monthly reading to a prepaid meter, said Faith Vanqa, a representative of the protesters.
Soweto homes owe Eskom more than $300 million in unpaid electricity bills and the hope is that prepaid electricity will "contain the level of debt," said Khulu Phasiwe, spokesman for the public utility company.
Meanwhile, in Cape Town, hundreds of striking municipal workers trashed the city's streets. Marching through the city center, some workers carried placards demanding "Equal Work, Equal Pay," while others knocked over trashcans, leaving rubbish strewn across the streets.
The South African Municipal Workers Union said in a statement that they were demanding better wages and maternity benefits for firefighters, among other things.