Protesters won't back down as Somerset West unrest continues

2019-04-11 18:22
File: (Velani Ludidi, GroundUp)

File: (Velani Ludidi, GroundUp)

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"We are growing old under our parents' roofs, still waiting for housing that was promised to us," Pumzile Pika from Nomzamo, near Somerset West, said.

"Look at this land, vacant property which can give us our dignity and a place to call our own. Why are they shooting us when all we want is a home?"

On Wednesday, Pika led hundreds of protesters, who attempted to occupy privately-owned property earmarked for a shopping centre next to the N2, along with other tracts which run along the highway towards Lwandle. But authorities thwarted their attempts to erect shacks on the land, resulting in two days of unrest which led to the closure of the highway. Tyres were burnt and bullets were fired.

By midday on Thursday, an uneasy calm descended on the area as protesters met under a tree on the land they're demanding, to discuss a way forward as public order police, law enforcement and private security looked on.

Pika said the protesters were patient, maintaining that their shacks which were broken down would be re-erected, come hell or teargas canisters.


Pumzile Pika on the land he and protesters are attempting to occupy along the N2 near Somerset West. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Only five structures remained standing after the land invasion attempt on Wednesday.

Moyiseli Dubase, 36, points out one of the shacks in the distance, which he managed to build within three hours before the authorities arrived.

'I want a place of my own' 

That was his plot, he insisted. "I still live with my mother. I want a home of my own. But the promises that were made to us all these years just aren't materialising. So I must make my own plan," Dubase said.

"Why must I live this way, in an overcrowded house, when there is open land like this?"

A number of businesses were looted as the unrest continued overnight.

At "The Bar", a local liquor outlet, looters forced their way into the establishment and ransacked it. Broken bottles and rivers of alcohol flooded the property.


Moyiseli Dubase points out his shack, one of five which remain standing after Wednesday’s land invasion attempt. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

A number of people sat on the pavement from about 09:00, having a drink while they watched the situation in their streets unfold.

Further down the road, looters left U-Save supermarket carrying their goods in shopping bags. Laughing children were among them.

Smaller establishments were also targeted and trashed while being cleared out.

Pika distanced the protesters from the looting, blaming opportunists for capitalising on the unrest.


Provincial police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said public order police and other law enforcement agencies were policing the protests in the area.

More than 1 000 residents were estimated to be participating and eight people had been arrested.

"Several roads are closed and the situation is volatile in the area. We appeal to those who are participating in the protest to act within the ambit of the law. Lawlessness will not be tolerated. Our forces will remain on the ground until law and order is restored," she said.

According to the City of Cape Town, there has been a "dramatic increase" in the number of protests in the last six weeks.


Their fight is apolitical, protest leaders say, pointing out that they all support different parties. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Less than two weeks into April, 21 incidents of protest action have been recorded. A total of 76 took place in March, compared to 24 in February.

"There was an unprecedented 74% increase in land invasions year-on-year last year. To put the frequency of land invasions into perspective, between January and the end of June 2018 some 67 000 illegally erected, vacant structures and pegs to mark off land, were removed. These operations tie up an enormous amount of City law enforcement resources. But it is vital to protect land from illegal occupation," mayoral committee member for human settlements Malusi Booi said in a statement.

Destruction of furniture 

"Illegal occupation leads to fire, health and flooding risks and places an enormous strain on our resources as a City. Priority is thus given to service provision for existing settlements."

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said while it respected the right to protest, the "nature of the protests that is putting our residents' lives at risk".

"The violence, destruction of infrastructure, risk to public safety and the closure of major routes which in turn impacts the economy, cannot be condoned. These disgraceful acts of public violence are damaging our economy and causing job losses, including to people from the affected areas," he said.

 Cape Town traffic services spokesperson Maxine Bezuidenhout said on Thursday afternoon that people in Lwandle were moving towards the local stadium.

"A small shack has been built in the land of Uvest [Property Group] next to the police station and the Red Ants reaction team is monitoring."

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