Cape Town - Pepper-sprayed and shaken, the people of Bo-Kaap who built shacks in the area in protest against a lack of social housing, struggled to express their feelings after law enforcement members tore down their structures on Wednesday.
Children scattered as the armed members pepper-sprayed protesters, shouting at them to “f*** off” while physically handling those still occupying their units. Members of the public retaliated in anger, swearing at the officers and asking why they were handled like this.
“I was crying, the way he spoke to me. I wanted to hit him but I don’t want to get in trouble. He was pulling me, he told children to ‘f*** off, f*** off’. He said ‘kyk hier jou vark, kom hier weg’ (look here you pig, get out of here).
“People were sleeping in shacks and they were pulling them out, pepper-spraying them, burning them. We’re human beings and we’re being treated like animals,” said Bahija Isaacs.
Mayco member for informal settlements Xanthea Limberg said officials used pepper spray “in their defence” because residents had become hostile.
“The City can confirm that the anti-land invasion unit (ALIU) conducted an operation in Bo-Kaap on Wednesday, 11 July, 2018 and removed the illegally erected vacant structures. The community became hostile towards the ALIU staff and contractor during the operation, and the officials therefore had to make use of pepper spray in their defence. The City then immediately reported the matter to SAPS,” Limberg said.
On Wednesday Bo-Kaap resident Shahied Robain struggled to speak and said people were heartbroken at how they were being treated. Robain headed to the SAPS with a few residents to make a case against the officers.
“They took everything, they hit a lady and one guy is seriously hurt. His face is swollen up because of the teargas. We have to make a case against them, it’s the only route to go. The City isn’t listening to us, they don’t come out and talk to us.
“I called the ward councillor now and he picked up and put the phone down.
“Even if I sleep outside on a blanket, I’m not going to stop till they give me a house,” said Robain.
The protesters, who call themselves Bo-Kaap Disadvantaged Community, are fourth and fifth-generation Bo-Kaap residents who now occupy congested homes, with parents, children and grandchildren living under one roof.
Many residents have been on the housing waiting list for up to 20 years and share a room with four other family members in a house occupied by three or more families.
Ward 77 councillor Brandon Golding said he had seen one or two shacks in the area but was not aware they were erected as a protest action.
“I had a meeting with Bo-Kaap Civic specifically about housing last week and I have a follow-up meeting with them about a lot of these issues. I read in the news yesterday about the protest
“I’m so surprised, I need to find out what happened because normally when the land invasion unit goes in, there is engagement with the people first.
“I don’t know what happened here. It’s disconcerting that they were rude. Normally they’re treated with kid gloves.”
Golding said he was engaging with the Bo-Kaap Civic Organisation and an elected housing group about having social housing possibly developed on appropriate land between Bo-Kaap and Tamboerskloof.
However, he said the land belonged to the national Department of Public Works, which he had been engaging with. The city did not respond to inquiries regarding the manner in which law enforcement handled the situation.