Racial tension brewing over land in Vereeniging

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Racial tension is brewing between two factions of residents in Rus-ter-vaal, outside Vereeniging.

Those who live in solid houses in the area are accusing those who invaded a piece of land in the area of degrading the suburb.

Many have accused ANC branch chairperson Madoda Mkhombeni of encouraging people from outside the area to invade the municipal land.

Things turned ugly when residents hurled insults at officials.

The officials include ANC Regional Task Team convener Slovo Majola, the member of mayoral committee responsible for housing, Edwin Kele and Mlungisi Hlongwane, who is the political advisor to Emfuleni Mayor Reverend Gift Moerane. They were chased away when they attempted to address fuming residents.

André Metlaar accused Emfuleni municipality officials and some ANC members in the area of fuelling racial tension.

"ANC members who work with Mkhombeni encourage people to occupy land in our area. Since January, they have been erecting shacks in Rus-ter-vaal. We have been living with black people as tenants in our yards for over 20 years and there were no invasions.

"When we start to question why land is being occupied instead of following proper channels, we are called racists by Mkhombeni and other ANC officials. We are not racists, we only want law and order to apply in our area."

Since the formation of the informal settlement, crime escalated and dangerous criminals were using the area as a hideout, said Metlaar.

An insult-hurling Raquel Charles emphasised that elections would not take place in Rus-ter-vaal, unless the settlement was demolished.

On Wednesday, two people were killed when land invaders clashed with the Red Ants. The Red Ants were implementing a court order the Emfuleni municipality obtained for the removal of the land invaders, who retaliated with violence when their shacks were demolished, resulting in the two deaths.

"We voted for them and now they call us racists. Those who have invaded our land must go immediately. We are prepared to die for Rus-ter-vaal. I swear there won't be any voting stations here," said Charles.

Kele said land invasion in the township was a challenge.

He added that they had told land invaders that the area was dolomitic and not fit for habitation.

"There have [been] over 200 people who have been approved to receive houses. We are going to move them to Tshepong and Savannah City. The land in Rus-ter-vaal that has been illegally invaded belongs to the Emfuleni municipality. It is illegal to occupy that land and we will fight against invaders," said Kele.

He promised that the municipality would continue engaging with both groups of residents to find a lasting solution.

Majola said that they had received reports that Mkhombeni and other ANC members in the Vaal were allegedly encouraging land invasion in the area.

He said they met with Mkhombeni's branch leaders to address the matter.

"We proposed that while we are looking for a lasting solution, there will be no further land invasions taking place. As the ANC, we don't have any policy that encourages people to invade municipal land. The ANC is against land invasions and we know who in our party are behind land invasions and we are going to deal with them internally," said Majola.

South African Human Rights Commission provincial manager in Gauteng, Buang Jones, said the commission was in the area to assess the situation.

Jones called for an urgent meeting next week between the two factions as well as the Emfuleni municipality, the Department of Human Settlements, police, the Red Ants and other stakeholders.

"We will be holding government accountable in a public meeting where residents will be raising their concerns. We again will ensure [whether the] Emfuleni municipality followed proper legal routes when it instituted an eviction order. Our courts have pronounced on how municipalities must conduct themselves when they instituting eviction orders," he said.

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