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Cape Town - Police and hundreds of Macassar residents clashed violently for the second day on Tuesday, over an announcement by the mayor that Lwandle squatters would be rehoused there.
Protesters torched a municipal building and barricaded roads with burning tyres throughout the day.
By mid-morning, the streets of the usually quiet neighbourhood outside Somerset West resembled a war zone, with hundreds of people rioting, thick smoke hanging in the air and a police helicopter flying low overhead.
Police arrested seven people on public violence charges, and opened fire with rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.
Each side blamed the other for the escalating unrest.
Infuriated by the arrests, many of which were accompanied by accusations of police beatings, protesters tried to march on the police station, but were blocked by armoured vehicles and riot police. Using a loudhailer a policeman announced that the gathering was illegal, and they had five minutes to disperse.
This threat sent the marchers into a frenzy. From behind low walls and obstacles that shielded them from rubber bullets, protesters threw stones at the police.
At one stage, protesters tried to storm a Checkers supermarket, but riot police deterred them.
The residents’ anger was sparked by mayor Patricia de Lille’s announcement 10 days ago that residents controversially evicted from land in Lwandle owned by the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) would be settled in Macassar in a new city housing project next year.
Residents said there was ample need for housing among Macassar’s backyarders. They said they were opposed to an influx of “outsiders” as they feared that some of Macassar’s backyarders and shack dwellers who had been waiting years for housing would lose out.
Naomi Mowers, 32, said: “My two children and I have been living as squatters in my parents’ backyard for years.
“Now they want to send strangers into houses that we have been waiting for. This is not fair and today we are sending a message: as long as the backyarders in Macassar have a voice, this will never happen.
“I have been on the housing waiting list for a decade.”
Responding to the crisis, Siyabulela Mamkeli, the mayoral committee member for human settlements, assured all that the city was talking to “aggrieved” residents.
“Although the city respects the right of residents to air their grievances, this must be conducted in a peaceful manner,” he said.
“We reiterate that the affected residents from Lwandle can be accommodated in the Macassar development precinct.
“The precinct development looks much more broadly at the area than only at the Macassar housing project.
“The city is looking at areas for development within this precinct over the medium- to long-term.”