Tempers, tear gas flare

2016-03-01 06:00
A protestor runs along Acacia Road with a t-shirt covering his face to shield him from tear gas. A group of 200 protestors gathered on the street last Tuesday in anger about housing in Parkwood. More pictures on page 6.  PHOTO: Chevon Booysen

A protestor runs along Acacia Road with a t-shirt covering his face to shield him from tear gas. A group of 200 protestors gathered on the street last Tuesday in anger about housing in Parkwood. More pictures on page 6. PHOTO: Chevon Booysen

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Chaos erupted in Parkwood on Tuesday afternoon last week.

Tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets were fired when residents of the newly-erected and already demolished informal settlement Skiemsaam protested on Acacia Road.

Right after the demolition of the 50 illegal structures on the corner of Acacia Road and Falcon Way, the squatters set tyres alight in the road and pelted rocks and stones at officers of the City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement and the anti-land invasion unit.

The agencies were first sent to the area on Monday to remove the structures (“New settlement sprouts”, People’s Post, 23 February), but it was only done on Tuesday.

One of the squatters, who did not want to be named, says they were “peaceful all the time” before the demolition.

“Just after noon [Law Enforcement] fired two warning shots into the air without violence from our side. This community then retaliated because they had no right to shoot at us after we cooperated with them the entire time,” she says.

Benjamin Adams, who is part of the Parkwood Forum, says people are frustrated because their concerns were not addressed.

“People are angry because they have been put off the land without a court order. Liaising only took place with a small delegation and even this was unfruitful,” Adams says.

The squatters and other residents from the area became locked in a stand-off with authorities on Acacia Road, pelting rocks and shouting profanities at Law Enforcement officers, who reacted by firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

Benedicta van Minnen, Mayco member for human settlements, says: “The City and police removed 63 unoccupied illegally erected structures. Unfortunately, the community reacted with violence and aggression, despite all of the attempts at engagement and prior warning.

“A group of about 200 residents threw stones at City and police officers and burnt tyres.”

Hit in yardJeanette Josephs (70) was one of the people who was hit by rubber bullets.

“I just returned home and I was in my yard already when I was hit by a rubber bullet. This is not right; innocent people are now getting hurt,” Josephs says.

The area was cordoned off and traffic from Klip Road was redirected.

Seven men, aged between 18 and 40 years, were arrested for public violence.

Van Minnen says: “The invasion started on Sunday evening when a group of backyard dwellers erected illegal structures in Acacia Road. When anti-land invasion unit staff arrived at the scene at about 22:30, they found 50 residents in the process of erecting small structures.

“In accordance with City process, they warned the group that they were acting unlawfully and that they should take down the structures,” she says.

A City facilitator met with all role players on Monday morning, including the local ward councillor and representatives of the backyarders, to try and resolve the situation.
“At this meeting it was agreed that the backyarder representatives would return to the group and explain to them that they had to take down their illegal structures,” Van Minnen says.
However, the group refused and the illegal structures were still in place on Tuesday morning, despite the City’s multiple warnings and engagement, Van Minnen says.
The City and police then removed 63 structures.

“Unfortunately, the community reacted with violence and aggression despite all attempts at engagement and prior warning,” Van Minnen says.

She says another meeting was then held with the community on Thursday.
“The City has made it clear that no plans for housing currently exists for the land in question.
“The land belongs to the City and to invade this piece of land is unlawful,” Van Minnen explains.
She confirms there were meetings with residents in 2005 and 2006 to discuss uses for the piece of land.

“We can confirm that a discussion was had around potential uses for this piece of land. But no decisions were taken in this regard. At this stage there are no plans for housing in this area. This has been communicated to the Parkwood community,” she says.

It has been suggested that an active committee be established for community engagements to discuss the way forward.
“This will ensure a transparent communication process between the City and the Parkwood community in future,” she says.
Opportunistic individuals looted a shop in Blackbird Avenue. Various other tuck-shop owners were forced to close up shop after they were also threatened.
In response to a looting incident that was reported online, Van Minnen says: “The City addressed the incident of looting that took place in Parkwood earlier this week and how disappointing it was that the community took advantage of such an unfortunate situation.”

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