Cape Town - Hangberg in Hout Bay is a community on a knife-edge. 

The recent protests by a fraction of the residents of the community and the resultant criminal element creeping in to take advantage of the situation by looting and plundering have thrust the fishing village back into the spotlight, after violent riots broke out 18 months ago.

Days after a riot that saw government and private buildings gutted by fire, the smell of smoke and burnt rubber and debris still hangs in the air from the wharf, at the harbour, and well up the slopes of the Sentinel.

The burnt shells of small fishing rowboats, trailers and warehouses are slowly being cleared by volunteers, or opportunistic recyclers looking for building materials and scrap. 

There appears to be no assistance from any level of government in the cleaning up of the charred debris that dots the landscape.

The residents themselves are picking up the pieces after Sunday's protest.

But while the community has legitimate concerns, their plight falls on deaf ears because of the lawless behaviour of a few.

Community activist and a member of the Hangberg Concerned Residents Group Lee Smith said the people here feel there is no other way to make their voices heard.

"We've been engaging with the government. We speak to them. All we get in return is empty promises. The protest is not just about housing. It's also about fishing rights. It's also about job opportunities. It's about a community that has been marginalised."

There are around 10 000 residents living in Hangberg; about 400 of them, at most, took part in the protest on Sunday, and a much smaller handful are still being sought by the police for their involvement in the looting of the Hout Bay Market on Monday night.

"There will always be criminal elements that creep in and use protests as an excuse to loot. But these are children. The whole community is being blamed for the destruction and looting, painted with the same brush, because of the actions of a few," Smith said.

While the residents have valid and pressing concerns, these are not addressed by officials, said Smith.

"There is no excuse for crime and criminal activity. There is no respect for criminals in this community. Many of them don't condone the violence and the protests.

"The residents here could make a living off the sea, they always have. 

"They love the sea."

But the fishing village has been hamstrung by what many of the residents feel is the unequal and unjust divvying up of fishing quotas and rights. 

Fishers are unable to put food on the table, while big fishing companies continue to rake in the profits. 

"That's all the majority of these people want. They don't condone violence. They just want to feed their families, and the opportunity to do so.

"They have lived their lives on the sea, now they are unable to use the bounty to provide for themselves and their families," Smith said.


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Cape Argus