Pretoria - A tense stand-off between Mamelodi hostel dwellers and police threatened to get out of hand during a protest on Sunday when the dwellers refused to disperse, demanding that Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa come and address them.
The hostels residents had gathered early in the morning and waited for the mayor and housing MMC Joshua Ngonyama to address their concerns around a new development in the area.
They also wanted clarity on the occupation of new units built for them, which other people had moved into.
Their local councillor had promised them that the mayor and MMC would come to a meeting, they said, explaining that they otherwise would not have gathered there.
“We have patiently waited to be allocated units to move into for years. Next thing we saw other people moving in,” said one disgruntled man, a hostel dweller of 25 years.
They alleged metro police officers, nurses and others they could not identify had moved into completed units.
They wanted answers to these, and other queries.
The hostels occupied by the men, women and children are dilapidated and have no electricity or water. Some have no roofing, doorways are open, and windows have no panes.
Most of the residents are unemployed and cannot afford to find alternative accommodation.
Explaining their situation, one said: “We have no money to pay bribes. That is why we’re losing out on accommodation in new units.”
“The councillor last week said she had no answers, and said she would bring those who knew, including the mayor to today’s (yesterday’s) meeting,” said hostel committee member Daniel Sello.
There were other issues, including a development project and contractors appointed to work there, that were a sore point and needed clarifying, he said.
“We will not disperse until someone says something to us,” some of the men told police officers, who were reminding them that they had not sought permission, nor followed required processes to hold a public meeting or demonstration.
The police had arrived in no fewer than 12 vehicles, among them two nyalas, which prompted the protesters to ask why they had come out in so many numbers to monitor a meeting.
Tempers flared when police officers asked the hostel dwellers to disperse, telling them that despite their grievances, they had no right to be gathered there.
They were told that no one would be coming to talk to them.
“We would’ve been notified if someone was coming, and right now no one is,” a metro police officer told them.
Residents said they would not go anywhere until someone arrived, a large group of them singing and dancing in the open field.
Ngonyama said they had not agreed to attend the meeting, and said he had met committee members last week.
“They raised the issue of allocation, and an investigation into that will be done in two weeks after which I will get back to them.”
Acting city spokeswoman Lebogang Matji said: “In line with a draft policy on allocation and management of communal residential units, the family units in Mamelodi will be allocated to residents of Mamelodi hostels.”
When residents decided to disperse soon after lunch, the protesters threatened to forcefully remove the people who had moved into the new units if no one gave them the answers they sought.