Cape Town- There was pandemonium in Malmesbury on Friday morning when hundreds of township residents rioted.
The residents of Wesbank and Lingelethu were reacting to the Swartland Municipality’s apparent failure to respond to a memorandum about the slow roll-out of government housing.
The protests erupted before dawn, disrupting traffic on the N7 and closing a school.
By mid-morning police had pushed protesters back into Lingelethu. Two armoured vehicles, a prisoner transport van and around two dozen officers in riot gear occupied high ground near the Lingelethu post office.
Toyi-toying protesters blocked roads with burning tyres, threw rocks and periodically advanced on the police position.
Police responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and arrests. A police helicopter circled.
Police spokesman Constable Lorencial Johnson did not gives details of the confrontation, but confirmed the “riot” and said police were monitoring the situation.
Community spokesman Willie van Rooy criticised police for the “heavy-handedness” of their response. He accused the police of being untrained and trigger-happy, and criticised municipal officials for refusing to meet the protesters.
“There is a huge backlog on the housing list for Lingelethu and we recently heard that the municipality’s budget made no allowance for housing,” he said.
“The people simply need answers, but instead they call in the police who fire tear gas into streets where families live with young children.”
iLingelethu High School, where matrics were due to write exams, was closed as a result of the riot.
“This is difficult for me because I was due to write a maths exam on Friday,” said matric pupil Dylan Anthony, 17.
“Now we’re not sure whether we’ll ever be able to make up for it. These exams will impact the rest of our lives, so I’m worried.”
Western Cape Education Department spokeswoman Bronagh Casey said the exams would be rescheduled.
Swartland municipal manager Joggie Scholtz said on Friday that housing provision was the national government’s responsibility.
“We are a municipality and only act as implementation agents. Any housing project must be given due process. We are very busy and this is just the process of development. Unfortunately, the first point of departure is the promises for the provision of houses that people were made right before the election,” Scholtz said.
- Additional reporting by Arabella Watters