Cape Town - Police used a water canon and fired stun grenades to disperse angry Valhalla Park residents who shut down a busy main road on Wednesday to protest against poor service delivery.
Demonstrations broke out along Robert Sobukwe Drive, formerly Modderdam Road, around lunchtime as some pupils were heading home from their first day of school.
Residents burnt tyres and several of the wooden fences protecting trees along the road.
They hauled rocks into the road and hurled stones at officers, who in turn fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
Some residents scolded police for firing the grenades, saying they were traumatising children.
It is understood the demonstration developed spontaneously after five shacks were burnt down. People said one shack had been deliberately set on fire and the it spread.
Police upset residents when they ordered them to go back to their homes – homes that had burnt to the ground. They said: “But we’re standing in our houses!”
An angry Ralph Josephs, who lives with his daughters aged three months and five years, shouted at police: “Where must I go?
“This was my house – you say go to your house, now where must I go?”
All his family’s belongings were burnt in on Wednesday’s fire, including his camera equipment, from which he made a living.
“I was trying to save some of my stuff, but police started firing – you can’t save a shoe or a teaspoon here,” Joseph said.
The city will investigate allegations that the fire was deliberately started to get more names on its property rights lists.
The Agstelaan settlement was devastated by a fire that destroyed hundreds of shacks two days before Christmas, displacing 1 500 people. New structures have since gone up for the homeless. But tensions have risen in the community since the fire and there have been a number of protests.
After Wednesday’s fire, resident Adrian Lawrence said a city Disaster Risk Management official had visited. Residents gathered and decided to protest. “We’ve seen other people protest and they get what they want so we wanted to protest.”
City Disaster Risk Management’s Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said they would not provide relief to residents of the houses destroyed in Wednesday’s fire because they did not want to put staff at risk.