Cape Town -
A tar road is all that divides two communities gripped in a war of class and race. On the one side are Mitchells Plain residents out to prevent what they view as an invasion, and on the other side are residents from Siqalo informal settlement trying to survive.
Residents of areas such as Colorado Park, London Village and Rondevlei say the informal settlement, which mushroomed in the past two years, has fuelled crime and caused property values to plummet.
Colorado Park itself has earned the nickname “The Constantia of Mitchells Plain” for its relatively high number of middle-class to upper middle-class residents.
Divided by Vanguard Drive, Siqalo is a sprawling township of about 6 000 people.
Residents from the formal areas refer to the informal settlement residents as “them”, as race tensions mount after protests by Siqalo residents blocked Vanguard Drive. One of the residents’ associations called for a wall to be built to isolate Siqalo from the neighbouring areas.
Even Mitchells Plain police cluster commander, Major-General Jeremy Vearey, weighed in on the matter and told the Cape Argus the opposing ratepayers’ association represented a “fringe, racist group”.
A high court date on May 12 is set to decide the future of Siqalo and in turn the residents of the surrounding areas.
Siqalo sprang up in 2012, although a small group occupied the privately owned land for at least seven years. It attracted many of the poorest from other informal settlements such as Khayelitsha, Philippi and Gugulethu because they didn’t have to pay rent.
What started off as a few shacks and fewer than 100 people exploded in months.
A few residents have set up small businesses to support themselves and the community.
Some of of the most notable features are the swarms of flies and puddles of brown water.
There is no drainage when it rains and this is a perfect breeding ground for disease.
Madiba Madiba, general secretary of the Siqalo Committee, said several children had been admitted to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital for diarrhoea.
“Sickness spreads quickly among the people, especially the children. There is no proper sanitation and that is one of the major issues here.”
Madiba said despite media reports that they had protested over voter registration issues, the real reason was a demand for more taps.
“Currently there are only four taps for 6 000 people. You sometimes have to wait up to three hours just to fill a bucket of water. We protested because we wanted more taps, just six more to help those deeper in the settlement.
“The city has posted police and metro police at the entrance to Siqalo, but they could have used the money for extra security to pay for more taps. It’s ridiculous.”
Madiba also denied allegations that crime in the neighbouring areas had gone up since Siqalo was established.
“I challenge them to tell us how many people from Siqalo have been arrested for housebreaking. I’m sure there may be some criminal elements, but to blame everyone is taking it too far.
“For them, it’s about the look of their neighbourhood. People have complained about people walking to and from Philippi station for work. It’s not about crime for them, it’s about class and race.
“Everyone is already on edge about relocation, but now we have to deal with this too. We don’t know if or when the city will move us. Some have already packed their things into bags.”
While the residents’ association declined to comment, some residents of Colorado agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
“Our problem is not with all the people of Siqalo, but as long as it stands, our homes will continue to be broken into and our children robbed on the way to school,” said one woman.
“While I am sympathetic to them, they are there illegally. I cannot and will not put the interests of the people of Siqalo above my own family.”
Natalie Bent, ward councillor for ward 75, which includes Colorado Park and Rondevlei, said she had met the Siqalo Committee several times but their leadership was always changing.
“I have engaged with the committee several times over the past two years; however, its changing structures have made it difficult for effective communication. Still, we will meet them again soon to discuss the issues.”
The councillor said residents had brought her dozens of complaints about burglaries and robberies over the past few years.
“They feel unsafe, and measures like building a wall to separate Siqalo is what they believe will keep them safe. There is a similar plan, but with slightly different objectives, to bar access from Samora Machel into Colorado via the R300 highway. Not only is it dangerous to cross the highway, but it is also an attempt to curb break-ins by criminals from Samora.”
Abraham Isaacs, Mitchells Plain Community Police Forum spokesman, said other forces were at work in the conflict between Siqalo and the surrounding areas.
“If the issue truly was crime, why have they not called for a wall to be built between Colorado and New Woodlands, which is known as a gang-infested area? Race and crime are just being used to push someone else’s agenda. The matter is in court and that is where it will be dealt with.”
The Siqalo land is owned by mining company Lyton Props Twelve and Ross Demolitions, which used it to mine sand before abandoning it.
During court proceedings, the companies indicated they were willing to sell or lease the land to the city.
Ross Demolition’s attorney, Luisa de Gouveia, said it was unclear if the offer was still on the table and it was dependent on her client’s instructions.
Mayor Patricia de Lille met the area’s formal residents and assured them she would address their complaints once she had been able to consider all options.
Her spokesman, Solly Malatsi, said the city was doing its best to provide temporary services, but the violent protests had destroyed some of the infrastructure.
“The city is doing its best within the confines of the law to provide temporary services. The protest was an illegal and violent demonstration that led to disruption of public life and destruction of the toilets and standpipes provided by the city.”
Malatsi made it clear that while the residents of Siqalo would eventually be relocated, they would not be given housing immediately.
“This is privately owned land. The city provides housing opportunities to people on the city’s waiting list only. We cannot allow people to jump the queue on the waiting list, in the interest of fairness.”