Cape Town - Chaos erupted in Hawston where a 13-year-old boy and a policeman were shot and wounded, and several vehicles and the premises of the police dog unit were petrol-bombed.
The violent clashes saw residents barricade the road between Hermanus and Bot River with burning tyres.
By late on Saturday night public order police had been sent from Cape Town to the fishing community in a bid to help bring running gun battles between the police and the community under control.
The town erupted in violence shortly after the funeral on Saturday morning of a suspected poacher, Steven “Sai” Figaji, 19, who is believed to have drowned at Breakfast Bay in Vermont last week, while allegedly harvesting perlemoen illegally.
But residents are disputing the cause of death, suggesting he was a victim of police brutality.
Residents took to the R43 highway to vent their anger, with locals blocking off all entrances to Hawston. They hurled petrol bombs and stones at police, and set fire to police and private vehicles.
Lionel Adendorf, agriculture, forestry and fisheries department spokesman, said on Saturday night eight of their officers had received death threats following Figaji’s death.
A bystander said :
“Poachers threw petrol bombs and pelted police with stones.
“People in general are fed up with the law enforcement officials’ bullying tactics.”
Figaji’s relatives refused to comment, but said they were unaware of any protest plans following the funeral.
Police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said at least one police vehicle, a traffic police vehicle and several private cars were petrol-bombed during the violence that ensued.
“A police officer was injured when members of the community opened fire on the police,” he said, adding that the police dog unit had also been attacked.
By late on Saturday evening he was still awaiting details of the extent of the damage, including any injuries to the unit’s dogs.
“We cannot get into or out of the area so we don’t know any details of the 13-year-old who was also believed to have been shot,” Van Wyk said.
Several residents told Weekend Argus they took matters into their own hands after word spread that police officials allegedly assaulted divers suspected of perlemoen poaching on Saturday.
“We were told that police were busy beating divers. People have had enough of the way the law enforcers have been handling people suspected of poaching,” a resident said.
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 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,” Gelderblom added.
They were planning to meet police later today to discuss the community’s concerns.
Provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa confirmed the R43 had to be closed to traffic on Saturday because of the protests. The road was still closed at 6pm on Saturday night.