The K9 headquarters and cop vehicles are set alight. Photo: Bronwin du Plessis
The K9 headquarters and cop vehicles are set alight. Photo: Bronwin du Plessis
An innocent 13-year-old boy was shot in both legs during the protest. Photo: Bronwin du Plessis
An innocent 13-year-old boy was shot in both legs during the protest. Photo: Bronwin du Plessis

Cape Town - A Western Cape town was turned into a battlefield after fed up residents declared war on local cops.

The quiet town of Hawston was plunged into chaos after the latest clashes with police officers who locals say are members of the notorious “Slaan Squad” (Hit Squad).

In a weekend of drama:

* Shots and tear gas were fired at residents in running pitched battles;

* In one incident, an innocent 13-year-old boy was shot in both legs;

* Community members set fire to several police vehicles and the Overberg K9 Dog Unit headquarters in the town;

* Almost the entire town – young and old – rose up against the cops.

Two suspects will appear in court on Monday charged in connection with the violent disturbances.

People went on the rampage on Saturday following the funeral of a suspected poacher, Steven “Sai” Figaji, 19, and a separate incident in which two alleged poachers were arrested.

Figaji is believed to have drowned at Breakfast Bay in Vermont last week, while allegedly harvesting perlemoen illegally. However, people who were with him claim law enforcement officials played a role in his death. This will now be investigated.

There has been repeated claims over the years that law enforcement officials dealt heavily with alleged poachers.

The weekend’s violence was also sparked by a dramatic cop car chase through the town as alleged members of the “Slaan Squad” pursued two suspected poachers.

One of the men got away, but local sources say his accomplice was taken away and allegedly beaten up by the “Slaaners”.

“They took him into the bushes and roughed him up and the community got upset because of this,” one 50-year-old man, who did not want to be identified, explained.

A thick cloud of smoke hung over Hawston on Saturday as the mob blocked the R43 between Botrivier and Hermanus with burning tyres.

Shots were fired between police and members of the public as the cops called for back-up.

This quickly escalated out of control.

Some residents set fire to police vehicles outside the K9 Dog Unit headquarters, which was also set ablaze.

One SAPS officer was hurt as he tried to save the dogs from the flames.

Hawston community leader Jan Gelderblom said he returned from Cape Town on Saturday afternoon to find “the fishing village in flames”.

He acknowledged the rumours that police had allegedly assaulted poachers and that the community had retaliated.

“Tempers are flaring. I haven’t seen Hawston in this state in a very long time. The R43 is on fire, the police dog unit offices in Hawston are in flames, everything is burning,” he said.

Hawston resident and local councillor Maurencia Gillion added: “We condemn the violence and damage to state property, but there must be looked at the source of the problem which caused it.

“This is not about politics or religion, this is about the violation of human rights and it affects the whole community.”

Deputy Provisional Police Commissioner Major-General Peter Jacobs travelled to Hawston as cops desperately tried to restore calm.

During a press conference, Jacobs claimed the attack on the K9 Unit was “planned in advance” by criminal elements who wanted to exploit the deepening tensions for their own “agenda”.

“The speed at which the attack on the dog unit happened shows fine planning,” Jacobs said.

“To flip four vehicles and get petrol for petrol bombs so fast is not easy.”

Jacobs added that two suspects “specifically connected to the incident” were arrested late on Saturday night following a shootout with cops.

The top cop also vowed that the Independent Police Investigation Directorate would take over the investigation into Figaji’s death.

And he promised that any complaints of alleged police brutality would be fully investigated.

Meanwhile, cops also confirmed that two local suspects, aged 21 and 27, were arrested in possession of 55 abalone and 12 crayfish.

“The estimated street value is about R2 000. The suspects will appear in the Hermanus Magistrates’ Court on Monday,” said police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk.

Charges of arson, public violence and malicious damage to property are now under investigation.

“One SAPS member was injured and his private vehicle damaged while he tried to save the dogs after the K9 Unit was set alight,” he added.

“Various private vehicles were damaged – one was burned and others damaged by rock throwing.”

Daily Voice with additional reporting by the Cape Argus