Fiery day of protests in Khayelitsha over battle for basic services to new shacks

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  • Thursday's flash protest in Khayelitsha was set off by residents who say their demands for water and toilets have been ignored.
  • They said memorandums sent to the City of Cape Town and Parliament were ignored, so they had no other choice.
  • Three Golden Arrow buses and a Checkers truck were torched, and a transport service for the disabled was attacked. 
  • A spokesperson for the protesters blamed this on criminals who took advantage of their grievances.  

Khayelitsha's residents woke up to a fiery day of protests Thursday caused apparently by requests for recently occupied plots to get toilets and water for those who now live there.

Providing background to Thursday's decision to take to protest, Mabhelandile Twani told News24 they had nothing to do with the arson that sent plumes of black smoke rising into the air as three buses and one truck were reduced to charred wrecks.

He said the protest was all about them being ignored after they tried to get basic services put in to recently newly created shack suburbs.

Three Golden Arrow buses that cost around R2.4 million each and a Checkers truck delivering groceries were torched. A dial-a-ride service for the disabled was also stoned, leaving at least 30 people stranded and the service grounded for the day. Two excavators, belonging to contractors, were also set alight.

These were being used for the City of Cape Town's Baden Powell to Khayelitsha water supply project.

The police were on the scene with their Public Order Policing Unit.

The City of Cape Town said it also suspended services because it was considered too dangerous for their staff to go to work there. This included the delivery of water as part of Covid-19 hygiene programmes.

One of its staffers in Macassar had to call for assistance after a crowd arrived at his house and threatened to burn a City vehicle, while a traffic patrol vehicle was stoned, and a Law Enforcement vehicle damaged when it was involved in a crash with two other vehicles while those vehicles were making U-turns to avoid the protests. Two people were injured in the incident.

Retailer Shoprite said produce and food items worth thousands of rands were destroyed when one of its Checkers-branded food delivery trucks was set alight in the early hours of the morning. It was on its way to Cape Town via the N2 when the attack occurred.

"We are thankful that our driver escaped unscathed," Shoprite told News24 in reply to questions.

"We denounce these senseless acts of violence which ultimately puts the livelihood, lives and safety of others at risk - especially in the face of a world pandemic which has renewed food security challenges in South Africa."

Golden Arrow Bus Service's Bronwen Dyke-Beyer said the company had put up a reward of R200 000 for information on who torched three of their buses. The company had lost 11 buses this way so far this year.

The province's education department said 11 schools delayed the start of their matric exams until 10:00 to give pupils extra time to get there, and successfully started. 

Spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said:

However, we are aware that there are isolated cases where learners could not reach their venue. This is devastating.

They are speaking to the national department about the possibility of a back-up paper for pupils who could not make it to school due to the protests. 

Residents on edge

Residents had been on edge after a mass shooting, a "red zone" rule that required police escorts for ambulances after paramedics were attacked, and transport services strained by a dysfunctional train service and a stalled express bus contract.

The education department said it was not possible to accommodate matric exam pupils at other venues because of social distancing and not having extra papers on hand at the other venues, so those who missed the extended cut-off time of 10:00 would have to wait for news on what to do. 

Twani said the protesters had nothing to do with the torching of vehicles and attacks, and blamed it on criminals. 

He said all they did was block roads to draw attention to their plight. 

"We don't take responsibility for the burning of buses and the burning of a truck and so on. We regard that as criminal and people who were not part of this march," he said. 

Twani said the protesters had discussed the possibility that their action might disrupt matric exams, but decided that the pupils could rewrite next year if necessary, or write a supplementary paper this year if possible. 

For Twani, what was at stake was to get services to at least 12 shack settlements dotted around Khayelitsha and its surrounds. 

Lockdown settlements

The new settlements popped up during the Covid-19 lockdown, and were given names reflecting the pandemic which they say turned their lives upside down through sudden joblessness and overcrowded homes waiting out the hard lockdown. 

The new residential areas called Thembeni, Level 2, Sakhile Nathi, Covid-19, Phumlani, Social Distance, Mpolweni, Makhaza and Pandemic are visible from some of the main roads running through the area, with seas of corrugated iron, and people carrying water to their shacks. 

eThembeni was in the spotlight when Bulelani Qolani was filmed being tackled while naked and again while he was inside his shack and it was being broken down around him.

The incident became the subject of court action which curbed the City of Cape Town's right to evict people without a court order. The City had argued that it had the right to get back land that was taken, and that the Disaster Management Act regulations also prohibited unlawful occupation of land.

Twani said people lost jobs because of the lockdown, their living conditions at home were already crowded before people had to stay indoors all day, and some had been unable to pay rent, so they were forced to set up home on the vacant plots. 

He explained:

These lands have been there for years. At some point we were even told the land was going to be developed, but it did not happen.

'Dumping ground for criminals'

He said since the vacant plots had been occupied, they had become safe spaces and no longer "dumping grounds for bodies by criminals".

Twani said they wrote the City of Cape Town and gave a memorandum to Cyril Xaba who chaired the recent public hearing in Khayelitsha on planned legislation to amend Section 25 of the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. 

A previous statement by Parliament on the hearing acknowledged receipt of the memorandum.  

Twani said not getting a reply from the City or from Parliament was the last straw for them and they decided to protest on Thursday.

READ | Six people shot dead at Khayelitsha tavern, 6-year-old girl wounded in the 'ambush'

The City of Cape Town's MMC for Human Settlements Malusi Booi told News24 the City had been saying for months it could not provide immediate services to areas where there were large scale occupations during the lockdown.

The City regarded the occupations as illegal, and had pointed out that they were on land either earmarked for housing for other beneficiaries, or for upgrading services to other parts of Khayelitsha or were unfit for people to live on.

"The City has repeatedly advised people not to settle in these areas," he said.

Booi said one of the plots settled on was supposed have been the site of a 5km water pipeline for upgrades to a large section of Khayelitsha, but this was on hold.

"Some activist groups, political instigators and others in leadership roles that are condoning and encouraging the illegal occupations are placing the health and safety of people at risk and jeopardising the stability of communities," he said.

Request for meeting with mayor

Booi urged anybody forced to build a shack because they had been evicted during the lockdown over not being able to pay rent, to lay a complaint with the police who would investigate for them because this would have been a breach of the Disaster Management Act regulations.

A request for a meeting with Mayor Dan Plato was receiving attention, the City said.

Twani said they hoped it could be as early as Monday. 

The City's MMC for Transport Felicity Purchase said after the attack on a Dial-a-Ride vehicle at 05:45, transport services for the disabled to Khayelitsha, Cross Roads, Makhaza, Philippi and Mfuleni were suspended. 

"At this point in time, the City cannot determine the extent of the damage to and vandalism of public roads and traffic signals in the affected areas as it is too dangerous for officials to do an assessment. This will be done once it is safe to do so," said Purchase.

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