Squatters’ blockade cuts off Claridge

2014-09-06 00:00

PROTESTING land invaders set up burning barricades along Otto’s Bluff Road in Pietermaritzburg yesterday and allegedly stoned approaching cars.

They ended up being tear-gassed by police.

The protesters were unapologetic about their land invasions.

They said they said they were protesting because one of their members went to the forests to ask the municipal security why they were breaking down his house. He told them they could not do that since there was a court case taking place on the matter.

“Instead of talking to him, they beat him up,” one person alleged.

He said they are very angry.

“We are protesting about the land and why they are breaking down our houses. We want the municipality to give us houses that we were promised,” said the group’s spokesperson.

Claridge residents returning home after shopping and working in Pietermaritzburg were shocked to find that they could not get home.

They complained that the only other way home was through a 30- kilometre detour via the Albert Falls road, through a forest and dirt roads.

The protest started around 10 am and initially protesters manned their barricades. However they rushed off when police and Msunduzi traffic and security officers arrived, only to re-emerge at different spots on the road to reinforce the barricades they’d built.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker confirmed tear gas was used to disperse the crowd.

Naicker said the protest was continuing and that police were at the scene, monitoring the situation.

Ambulances transported about 25 children from a crèche in the area to Northdale Hospital where they were treated and discharged.

Emergency services spokesperson Robert McKenzie said the children, all under five years old, were assessed — mainly for hysteria — after all the commotion in the area. “We glad the children are well and safe,” he said.

THE protesters, who were initially hostile, later agreed to talk to Weekend Witness, saying they were tired of being misrepresented.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said they are doing nothing wrong but simply following a position they believed was adopted at the ANC’s 2007 conference in Polokwane.

The group’s spokesperson said he believed the position was that if there was no change taking place they you could force change to happen. “Our pleas for housing have fallen on deaf ears, so we decided to take the vacant land and put up our houses – to force change.”

The group pointed to the structures in the informal settlement — Site 11 on Otto’s Bluff Road. “This is not how human beings should be living, our mudhuts are falling apart. We are living in overcrowded conditions because there is nowhere to go. The ANC says one home, one garden. Look, can you see any place here for a garden?” he asked.

“We have been here for 22 years and there have been three different councillors and all of them failed us. We want to know where our RDP houses are. Where is the RDP money?” he asked.

The group reserved their anger for current councillor Mary Schalkwyk. “She was supposed to come and talk to us, but she never came, she only came to fight with us,” said one of the group.

They were also critical of the local ANC leadership who they said ran after them at election time making all sorts of promises. “They say vote for us, you will get houses and better lives, then after the elections we never see them. “

Schalkwyk said she’d implored the group to be patient and await the outcome of the court case on September 11. “When I go to talk to them, they chase me away and today I heard they were going to march to my house,” Schalkwyk said.

She implored protesters to look at the informal settlers living in “Coalyard,” at the entrance of Woodlands.

“Sixteen years ago they were involved in a land grab. They were spoken to and asked get off the land and they will get housing. They have been given housing. The processes take time but national and provincial government are involved in a programme to do away with mud structures.,” the councillor said. She invited the protesters to work with her.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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