Pretoria - Building a “big wall” in Mahube would be the best way to separate homeowners and illegal land occupants and curb the ongoing violence, executive mayor Solly Msimanga said on Thursday.
He raised the unusual solution while addressing the two groups after a night of unrest and violence, which left some homes damaged.
“As part of a permanent solution we want to create a buffer between the house owners and illegal squatters. This will ensure the safety of both community groups,” he said.
Asked how soon the wall could be built, Msimanga replied: “As soon as possible.”
The suggestion of a wall came after the formal home owners sought an interdict to remove the illegal informal settlement residents. It was not granted.
Instead the court, issued an interdict for the illegal squatters to refrain from damaging their neighbours’ houses and intimidating them.
On Wednesday night, several houses and shacks were petrol-bombed and damaged following a battle between residents of the middle-class area and those of the nearby informal settlement.
Homeowners were complaining about the increase in their utility bills due to illegal connections, allegedly made by the informal settlers.
The shack dwellers have allegedly connected their water and electricity supplies to that of the homes, leading to an increase in home owners’ bills.
Amid the clashes, a mini-substation was set alight and houses and shacks torched with petrol-bombs from both sides. A fire engine was also damaged.
Msimanga said land invasions were a complex issue that had to be considered in terms of the broader legislative context.
There were mixed feelings about the proposed wall. House owners complained that the wall would hamper their movement and block the main road to nearby Mahube Mall.
The owner of a bonded house, who wished to remain anonymous, said the decision would cause more damage - and possibly deaths.
“The mayor’s permanent solution to build a wall is absolute rubbish. These squatters will jump the wall and steal our belongings anyway, not to mention our water and electricity,” she said.
“He knows that these informal settlers are wrong and need to be removed.”
Home owners told the mayor that the city should act swiftly in evicting the illegal land grabbers before more violence erupt.
Florence Motise told Msimanga that she was at home with her two children, aged 16 and 3, on Wednesday night when a petrol bomb was thrown into her living room. Her husband was at work at the time.
She narrowly escaped the inferno with her two traumatised children.
The fire destroyed most of what they owned, and the house is no longer habitable.
Motise said she was angry and sad that everything they worked for was destroyed and their lives were put in danger.
On the other side, shack dwellers welcomed Msimanga’s proposed wall, saying it was a sustainable way forward.
Meshack Mavuso, who lives in the informal settlement, said: “Msimanga knows he cannot do anything outside the law. If he removes us here he must find an alternative area for us, that’s it. And since the court did not approve the interdict to remove us, we welcome the wall with open arms.”
The city’s electricity personnel, on site to assess the damage to the mini-substation, were threatened by the squatters, and had to leave fearing for their safety.
“The burning down of a mini-substation rendering the entire area without power is as unfortunate as it is unlawful. The city, views this as a criminal act and encourage affected households to open ‘damage to property’ cases with police,” said Msimanga.
It is understood that the tension has been brewing for some time. Residents of the informal settlement moved into an open space across the road in April last year.
Public Order Police members in nyalas were deployed to patrol the area on Thursday night.