Michelle Jones, Xolani Koyana, Lauren Isaacs, Aziz Hartley and Quinton Mtyala
GRABOUW was “very tense” as thousands of coloured and black residents guarded their schools late last night against attack from either side, following a day when racial tensions exploded.
This followed violent protests over overcrowding at the town’s only black school in the morning. The protest spread to a neighbouring coloured community, closing three schools, and leaving a number of injured and a community leader on the run, afraid for his life.
Resident Margaret le Roux said last night: “A group of people of the coloured community have taken up a guarding position at the school to make sure the black people do not come to damage it. In the black area there are groups of people standing on corners and there are people burning tyres.”
The two groups were waiting to see what would happen next.
“It is extremely tense here and people in the coloured community are now in fear,” Le Roux said,
SA Democratic Teachers Union regional secretary Jacques Adams said: “It is quiet, but very tense. We don’t know what will happen.”
A spokesman said police would monitor the situation all night.
He said 15 people, held and then released on warnng, were to appear in the Grabouw Magistrate’s Court on charges of public violence. They were detained after police formed a human shield as a group of coloured, Afrikaans-speaking residents from Pineview and black, Xhosa-speaking protesters, most of them from Siteview, faced off.
Pineview resident Colven Smith said it was “unfair for the black community to break down their school because they could not get what they wanted”.
He blamed the racial tension on John Michels, chairman of the Elgin Grabouw Civic Organisation (EGCO), the protest organisers.
“It is wrong that our children’s classes are disturbed because John can’t get the Education MEC (Donald Grant) to co-operate with him. He is to blame for the racial tension between the coloureds and the blacks. Our community will fight back,” said Smith.
Last night, Michels went into hiding after several large groups of people went around Pineview looking for him after the day’s protest.
Police said four people had been injured earlier and were taken to Helderberg Hospital in Somerset West. They included Umyezo Wama Apile school pupil Ntaoleng Mhlambiso, 16, who was wounded when police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Protesters ripped out public telephone booths, lamp posts and stop signs and used these, with branches and boulders, to block off streets. Bushes and trees on the mountain along Ou Kaapse Weg were set alight.
A man was attacked by a mob of about 15 people. They hit him with rocks and sticks. He was also stabbed in the shoulder region. A second man was badly injured in an attack by the same group.
The N2 near Grabouw was closed for a while when protesters gathered, saying they wanted to march to Cape Town to demand a meeting with Grant. They threw stones at passing vehicles before police dispersed them.
The thousands of protesters in the coloured and black communities said they would not back down until Michels and Grant found “a solution to this problem”.
Michels blamed Grant for the violence. “We’ve been trying to get (Grant) around the table for two weeks, but he’s refused.”
Asked about the violence, in which two classrooms at the predominantly coloured Groenberg High School were damaged, Michels blamed “DA supporters”.
He said the DA had organised gangs of their supporters to antagonise and threaten protesters. “I had to be rescued by the police when some wanted to stab me.”
Four protesters were arrested with two DA supporters said by Michels to have tried to stab him. DA MPL Eugene von Brandis, whose constituency includes Grabouw, said the protest was a fig leaf and part of the ANC’s “Operation Reclaim”.
The DA claims the project seeks to destabilise municipalities run by
the party, by using the lure of patronage to unsettle councillors, asking them to resign and thus force by-elections.
“They are busing in people from Khayelitsha and Villiersdorp. They’re coming in with their impis,” claimed Von Brandis.
He said clashes were caused by the community in Pineview who wanted to protect their property following the vandalising of the two classrooms at Groenberg Secondary School.
“We don’t want to see property destroyed. They want to make it like in the apartheid days, but many in the community are standing up against the destruction of property,” said Von Brandis.
Grant condemned the violence, saying the actions of the EGCO were motivated by political interests at the expense of pupils.
“It is completely unacceptable and immoral for this organisation to continue to use the challenges at Umyezo Wama Apile school – challenges that have been made even worse because of their continued disruption – as an excuse to disrupt further and to destroy the life chances of other learners and business owners in the community,” said Grant.
Along with Groenberg, Kathleen Murray High School and Pineview Primary School were also closed due to the protests.
Grant said that at Groenberg Secondary three classrooms were vandalised and protesters attempted to set alight a textbook storeroom.
“I have received reports that parents of the school took it upon themselves to protect the school and subsequently prevented further damage. I am grateful and thankful for their efforts,” said Grant.
Theewaterskloof Mayor Chris Punt said although the council had given permission for the march, the protesters had failed to stick to the rules.
“What’s happening is not good for the area or the economy. The ANC wants to destabilise us,” said Punt.
He blamed yesterday’s violence on ANC Overberg chairman Manie Damon and on Michels.
“They DA beat the ANC at the ballot box, now they’re trying to beat us in an undemocratic way,” said Punt, referring to next week’s by-election in Grabouw in which a former DA councillor, Catherine Booysen, will stand as the ANC’s candidate in Ward 12.
Damon blamed the racial tone of yesterday’s conflict on the DA in the Overberg, saying party leaders had “organised” coloured people against those who were legitimately protesting against issues at the school.
He said ANC leaders were yesterday in discussions with police to reduce tensions following the morning’s violence.
“The bottom line is that the school needs better conditions. It’s all about education and we as the ANC distance ourselves from the burning of schools.”
He said the previous protest had no element of racial tension and Grabouw could not afford its people being divided.
Last night groups were standing on corners. The tension was still high, with either group not allowed in the others territory. Police vehicles were patrolling the area.
Marvin van der Merwe kept guard last night at Groenberg to prevent further damage, but said he was not fighting anyone.
“We are trying to protect our school. Just because the other Africans burnt down their school doesn’t mean that our children should suffer,” Van der Merwe said.
Monyaduwe Molefe said people from the black community were retaliating because they were being attacked. She said there was no proof that black people set the school alight.
“All we want is (Grant) to come here and address us. We don’t want any of this fighting,” she said.