Cape Town - A truck driver was rushed to hospital amid chaos on Khayelitsha’s streets on Wednesday as angry protesters stoned motorists, burnt rubbish and looted shops.
Economic Freedom Fighters supporters warned that this was “just a taste” of what would happen if authorities continued to evict squatters from private land next to the Nolungile train station.
It was on that land, a stretch of arid earth dotted with yellow grass and withered saplings, that squatters found themselves outnumbered by police early on Wednesday morning.
The private land owners had obtained an order to evict dwellers who had begun erecting shacks there since Monday.
About 20 of the structures, some half-built, nothing but skeletal wooden frames against the clear sky, stood scattered between the crowd of protesters who waved their tools, including spades, crowbars and wooden sticks, fiercely above their heads.
They said they had brought their materials to the strip of land because of overcrowding in Khayelitsha’s Site C.
“There are homes with 15, 16 people living in them,” shouted Major Mali as he walked carefully along the uneven ground. “This just isn’t right.”
The dwellers said they would stand their ground. But the boom of a stun grenade, and the crack of shotguns loaded with blanks and rubber bullets, sent them screaming and fleeing. Demolition crews worked quickly, toppling shacks with a clang of hammers against timber and steel.
As the new homes were dismantled and loaded onto trucks, a plume of smoke rose into the air. The ranks of spectators at the nearby railway bridge turned their heads and watched as angry protesters stormed onto Govan Mbeki Road, their tools still in their hands.
Behind them they left a path of a destruction, lighting bags of rubbish and tyres, throwing rocks at cars that stood in their way.
Before their clash with police on the private land, there had been hushed conversations about breaking through the doors of the local Shoprite. This plan was turned into action as the crowd turned on Site C’s Plaza, a mall tucked between the shacks in the area.
However, security guards acted quickly. One, who did not want to be named, said they managed to close the metal shutters just as the crowd reached the main entrance to Shoprite. “There was a security guard at the gate who managed to slow them down,” he said. “They beat him, but he was not injured.”
The glass fronts of the shops bore scars of the attempted looting. Security guards said looters had thrown trolleys at the entrance to try and break through, but had given up and turned back towards the train station.
They went on to stone bread trucks stranded on the road. Along Mew Way and Spine Road, protesters threw debris at passing motorists, shattering windscreens and forcing police to sporadically close the streets.
EMS spokesman Darren Francis said a truck driver was taken to hospital after he was hit in the head by a rock. At the time of going to print it was unclear how serious the wound was.
By 1pm dwellers had once again gathered on the private land at the heart of yesterday’s violence. Fires, started during the protests, crackled in the background, the smell of burnt petrol almost suffocating in the midday heat. After the second face-off, protests continued with stoning on the N2 highway.
A self-proclaimed lawyer, acting for the squatters, who refused to disclose his name, warned riot police against “taking the law into their own hands”.
“You are looking excited to shoot us,” he said as EFF supporters huddled in an intense negotiation with police.
Police gave the squatters a five-minute warning to leave the property. Despite supporters threatening to stand their ground, they eventually filtered towards the train station.
EFF member Khuliswa Nondala said the dwellers would not be deterred, warning that they would start fires and build shacks elsewhere to distract authorities.
“This is our land,” she said.
Police spokesman Colonel Tembinkosi Kinana said they were investigating several cases of public violence and malicious damage to property after people, cars and businesses were stoned.
He said a few people were injured, although he did not say specifically when, where, or how these injuries were sustained.
Only one person had been arrested for theft and was set to appear in Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court once he had been charged.
Kinana said they expected to make more arrests.
By late Wednesday night, police were still out in full force at Site C in Khayelitsha.
“Lawlessness will not be tolerated by the police and those identified and found to be involved in these criminal activities will surely be brought before justice,” he added.