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Battle of the Common

A usually peaceful Rondebosch Common was turned into a war zone on Friday as protesters, outnumbered by a huge police contingent, were sprayed with blue dye, arrested and thrown into the back of police vans.

With many still behind bars at the time of going to press on Friday night, they were, however, undeterred – and warned that Mowbray Golf Club would be next.

Police remove protester Daniel Corder from the Rondebosch Common. The number of police far outweighed the number of protesters. Photo: David Ritchie. Credit: INLSA

Earlier this week mayor Patricia de Lille branded Occupy Rondebosch Common organiser Mario Wanza and his supporters “agents of destruction”. And she had the police out in force from early on Friday in a bid to stop the marchers before they got anywhere near Rondebosch.

Wanza was himself arrested by police in Manenberg early in the day. But, said Farouk Davids, a protester who was with him at the time, he urged the others to continue.

The original plan was to march from various Cape Flats areas such as Mitchells Plain, Manenberg and Hanover Park, gathering at about 2pm at Athlone Stadium and then proceeding to the Common.

The protesters had warned they would “reclaim our right to the city”, occupying the Common to raise awareness about the lack of housing and jobs.

When they arrived at the stadium on Friday, a police function was under way, so they continued on the road to Rondebosch – to be met by a blockade of police who fired water cannons filled with blue dye before any of the group of just less than 40 people even made it off the pavement.

Scenes of chaos followed as police arrested the group, throwing people into the back of police vans, Casspirs and even a police minibus. They were taken to police stations at Mowbray, Claremont and Rondebosch.

Late on Friday night police spokesman Lieutenant Andre Traut said they would appear in court soon.

Amelia September, of Proudly Manenberg, said their initial plan to occupy the Common was changed on Wednesday “to show police that we were going to be peaceful”.

“We were going to march to the Common to raise awareness and make authorities aware that we are now pursuing other ways to make ourselves heard.”

Traut was adamant, however, that the event was illegal and said the organisers had not followed procedures. “Police had to act swiftly as lawlessness will not be tolerated anywhere,” he said.

Grant Pascoe, mayoral committee member for tourism, events and marketing, said on Friday night he was was also unaware of any change in the protester’s plan to occupy the Common. He added that the city had always intended respecting their right to protest.

“The unfortunate thing is that they are trying to address the issue of housing, which we are also concerned about,” said Pascoe.

“We would love them to come and discuss it with us through community forums and various other channels. We do not want to see people resorting to illegal activities as we have seen today,” Pascoe said, adding that the city wanted to help people by working with them, “through the community”.

But Jared Sacks, of Communities for Social Change which was helping drive the protest, warned they would “not be deterred”.

“We will occupy every golf course, we will occupy every piece of vacant land until both the DA and ANC governments listen to the people instead of the corrupt business people and big corporates who fund their election campaigns, and dictate land, economic and fiscal policy,” he said.

He even ended in a slanging match with Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich, leader of the ANC in the city council, who was among the protesters.

Ehrenreich condemned the police’s decision to use force on the crowd, accusing local government of failing the community.

“The police’s reaction was inappropriate. I am not sure if it is because black people cannot come and protest on the Common.”

He revealed, too, that Cosatu had already applied to gather on the Common next Saturday. He promised that 1 000 protesters would be present.

Daniel Ras, from the Mitchells Plain Forum, added his voice to the anger.

“How can this amount of force be available for a peaceful march?” he asked. “Why do police not implement this much manpower to come and sweep crime off the streets of our communities?” - Weekend Argus

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