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Xolani Koyana and Bhekimpilo Dungeni
POLICE chased protesting Sweet Homes Farm residents and shot at them with rubber bullets inside their homes, including a shack with dozens of young children in it, injuring a woman during violent clashes over service delivery in Philippi yesterday.
School-going children ran alongside fathers, mothers and sisters, unleashing a hail of bricks and stones at police vehicles, while flaming barricades of carpets, wooden boards, tree branches and tyres sent clouds of black smoke into the air.
Resident Valencia Menel said she had been sitting on her bed when police kicked down her door and fired several shots inside her home. They also opened fire with rubber bullets inside a shack containing dozens of young children.
She had bruises on the ribs from a rubber bullet fired at close range.
“It is very painful. I was not even part of the protest. I was just sitting in my house when they came in. They just started shooting,” Menel said.
Natasha Kasper, who was also in the house when the police started shooting, said she had to hide under a bed.
She said in the 12 years she has lived there not much had changed.
“In my home the floor is really wet. One day you are fine and the next, the doctor tells you are sick with TB. It is because of all of this,” Kasper said.
Residents were angered by what they termed broken promises by mayor Patricia de Lille to come to their community by July 1 to address their grievances over a lack of service delivery. It was already the end of July and De Lille had not been there.
Resident Simphiwe Stofile said in their last meeting with the city, they had been promised the visit and that services would improve by July 1.
“None of that has happened. We are still living in the same conditions we lived in back then. None of those people have ever come to this area to see what people live like here. They said they would, but never did.
“We don’t have toilets. We have to relieve ourselves on bushes. People, mostly children, get sick because of breathing all the filth,” Stofile said.
He complained that communal bucket toilets were not hygienic and were not emptied on time.
About 120 households shared three taps, Stofile said.
Several major roads became gridlocked when about 500 residents from the informal settlement blockaded Vanguard Drive and Lansdowne Road, demanding proper sanitation, electricity and housing. Nine of them were arrested for public violence.
Three commuters and a driver were injured when a Golden Arrow bus was stoned, then set alight, allegedly by the protesters just off Lansdowne Road.
It was the second time the residents had taken to the streets to voice their frustration. In March, they blockaded the intersection of Lansdowne and Duinefontein roads.
Yesterday, they used tyres, rubbish and plastic communal toilets to start fires along the same intersection. Twelve sets of traffic lights at that
intersection were damaged, some recently replaced after previous protests, speed cameras gouged out and information signs pulled down.
Police vehicles chased some protesters down Duinefontein Road towards Vanguard Drive, and then another contingent of residents would regroup, erect barricades on the road where patrol vehicles had passed, and set electricity boxes alight.
De Lille said because the land was previously privately owned, the city had not been able to provide some of the services.
“It would have been illegal for the city to do so in the past as we did not own the land. As such, the city, under my instruction, has recently acquired formal ownership of the land and we are now in a position to begin rolling out services in the area.
“I have instructed city officials to visit the area to convey this message to the residents,” De Lille said.
Police spokesman Andre Traut said the residents started their protest before 4am yesterday.
“The road was barricaded with burning tyres. A Golden Arrow bus and a Toyota Corolla were torched. Police dispersed the group by firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, and arrested nine people for public violence,” Traut said.
At one point, some residents were preventing others from going to work. After the stand-off with police, they marched to Ward 80 councillor Thembinkosi Pupa’s office, but were prevented from getting close by police and Metrorail security guards.
Traffic services spokeswoman Maxine Jordaan said the roads had been closed off as it was not safe for motorists. The protesters were stoning vehicles along the routes, she said.
“Lansdowne Road and NY72 were closed off. Vygieskraal Road and Vanguard Drive were also closed, and Duinefontein and The Downs Road were closed, with traffic officers directing the flow of traffic,” she said
Traffic was diverted to Old Strandfontein Road and Baden Powell Drive.
Golden Arrow Bus Services spokeswoman Bronwen Dyke said the bus driver had been hit with a brick in the face, and three passengers had injured themselves while trying to escape through an emergency window.