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Cape Town - Police have been accused of using live ammunition during violent protests in Philippi yesterday, with one man shot in the leg recovering in Tygerberg Hospital.
Although community leader Tumi Ramahlele insisted live ammunition was used, Tygerberg Hospital spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar said they had not yet ascertained whether live ammunition caused the injuries sustained by the patient, Robert Sobutyu.
Sobutyu was in a stable condition last night, Pienaar said.
Violence broke out yesterday after about 600 people were evicted from land near the controversial Marikana site, where evictions have been ongoing for months.
Running battles raged as police clashed with angry residents.
By late yesterday, a heavy police presence remained on Stock Road, which was littered with stones blocking traffic.
Several roads were closed following the clashes.
Cape Town traffic spokesman Richard Coleman said traffic officers had to be posted along the nearby N2 freeway after protesters hurled stones at motorists.
Officers had set up barriers at several intersections in Philippi, Coleman added.
But Ramahlele charged that residents found themselves caught in a war zone, and were forced to use whatever material was available to shield themselves from rubber bullets and live ammunition.
Police were adamant that they did not use live ammunition.
Police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said they used rubber bullets and gas grenades.
Four policeman were injured by the rock-throwing, but police had received no reports of injured civilians.
Eleven arrests were made and the suspects have been charged with public violence and malicious damage to property.
Two trucks’ windscreens were damaged by the stone throwing, and a building
behind the Philippi Cash and Carry had been set alight.
Late last night Van Wyk said the situation had calmed down, and that police would maintain a presence in the area overnight.
COUNTING THE COST OF PHILIPPI UNREST
Deep in the settlement where the demolition of about 600 shacks had taken place, families sat around their remaining belongings. Some made sandwiches, others gathered what materials they could.
But all said they were determined to stay put.
It was the quiet in the storm, a storm that saw running battles raging across several kilometres in Marikana settlement in Philippi East as police clashed with angry residents who said all they wanted was a place to call home.
The authorities, however, say they’re building shacks on privately owned land, thus breaking the law, and must be dealt with.
JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, questioned whether “criminal elements” were using the land invasion.
“The structures have been erected on privately owned land. The landowners have interdicts in place against illegal occupation. Thus, the persons who have erected the structures are breaking the law,” he said.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) is the lead agency, assisted by the city’s law enforcement agencies, Smith explained, adding that “anyone who insists on continuing to invade this land is breaking the law and they should be prepared to face the consequences”.
Amid claims and counter-claims about the use of live ammunition, with police admitting to only using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, community leader Tumi Ramahlele said residents were only responding to the use of force against them.
“We used tactics, and blocked ourselves,” he said.
Ramahlele claimed that even though “people were shot between the eyes”, they had managed to push the police out of the area.
A Weekend Argus team on the scene later yesterday saw people nursing their injuries, while guarding their remaining belongings.
Nomthemba Mayekiso, hobbling around with the aid of metal pole, said a rubber bullet had struck her on the leg.
Linda Sulani said she had not had the chance to get her belongings before a uniformed official entered her shack and chased her away.
Nomawethu Dlela said her fridge, TV and stove were gone.
Loyiso Nkohla, from the Ses’Khona People’s Rights Movement, was on site addressing residents. He said that authorities should have offered the affected residents alternative accommodation.
Earlier yesterday, rioters ran through the smoke carrying cases of Coca-Cola after looting a wholesaler, and by late yesterday, an overturned minibus still blocked the way to the settlement. One policeman was heard shouting into his radio: “We’re dealing with a monster. Rome is burning.”
A waste recycling plant was petrol-bombed, setting fire to two trucks.
A police water-cannon truck sped to the scene to drive the crowds back to allow City of Cape Town firefighters to extinguish the many blazes.
As the crowd melted away before reforming about a kilometre away, another law enforcement officer shouted: “We need more rubber bullets.”
Roads were littered with rocks and burning tyres, and several cars were stoned.
The crowds initially took heed of journalists' right to safe passage, but some were later threatened with death.
One woman clutching an ANC flag stopped alongside a VW Polo, which had had its windows smashed and sub-woofer speaker ripped out of the boot through the smashed glass: “This is not right. What if this driver had no insurance? How will he pay? I am ANC but this (violence) is so wrong.”
Meanwhile Tony Ehrenreich, provincial head of Cosatu and ANC leader in the Cape Town City Council, condemned the violence, calling it “completely unacceptable”.
But he added that the police had in the past not managed evictions “properly… in a humane way”.
“Both sides need to be really careful in the way they conduct themselves,” Ehrenreich said.
He went on to call for an urgent meeting of local political leaders to thrash out solutions to the housing crisis.
“So what we must urgently do, as all the roleplayers, led by the city, is to find solutions to the growing needs. People are not invading land out of hostility, but our of their desperate circumstances.
“We’re going to see an explosion of that – of moving on to land. Rental prices for backyarders has sky-rocketed, so they have no choice but to move on to land.
“So instead of fighting with poor people, we must find coherent solutions – not to the symptoms, but the causes of homelessness across the city,” Ehrenreich warned.