Siyabonga Kalipa, Siyavuya Mazantsi and Tshego Lepule
Cape Town - The N2 highway remains shut down on Wednesday morning after a violent land invasion protest in Grabouw on Tuesday which saw government property destroyed, houses wrecked and cars stoned.
Protests began on Monday night after residents of a new informal settlement called Siyanyanzela heard they would have to vacate the land they had been occupying for more than a month. Police, law enforcement and the Land Invasion Unit moved in behind the line of protesters to demolish the dwellings.
When the residents realised what was going on, they retaliated by throwing stones at the officers, who in turn used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse them.
Meanwhile residents scrambled desperately to save their belongings as their shacks were demolished.
A weeping mother, Lindelwa Sihlava, with her 11-month-old baby on her back, tried to save her belongings.
Sihlava said she heard people shouting that their houses were being demolished. “I had to come save my stuff because I have a young baby. I couldn’t let her food and other stuff be destroyed.”
She said even though there was nothing she could’ve done, she had to try. Fortunately for her, the Land Invasion Unit was only destroying shacks still under construction, leaving those which were already inhabited. Sihlava added that before moving to the land three weeks ago, she was living as a backyarder.
“I have been renting for a long time now and when the landlord heard there was land available for us, he said he was increasing the rent and I couldn’t afford it, so I had to come here.”
Another resident, Nomasikizi Thamba, said renting became expensive for her.
She said she has been renting, and since work was scarce in Grabouw, she could no longer afford it as she needed to feed her three children. “We have been on this land for over a month. I don’t understand why we are being chased away now. We won’t move. They must just give us basic services.”
Thamba said they would not be able to return to where they had been living as others had already occupied those spaces.
Resident Leonard Noyiya said he had been living on the land for more than a month. He heard rumours that the community was to be evicted. He said no one communicated nor consulted with them.”We work for rent here while there is a vacant land. We have nowhere to go. We will die here.”
Community leader Thobinceba Tshungwana said residents decided to protest after hearing rumours of a pending eviction. He said people were tired of renting in backyards and wanted their own houses, but as the leaders they would consult with land owners. However, it was not immediately clear who owned the land.
Siphesihle Dube, the spokesman for the provincial department of transport and public works, said the land did not belong to the department.
Theewaterskloof municipality’s Stiffie Cronje said a traffic office building was burned down during the protest.
The traffic department was looted and computers were stolen before it was set alight.
Several hours later, teenagers and small children, some dressed in school uniform, further vandalised the still smoking structure.
The children threw in all the building’s windows, moving on to the vehicle testing centre where they continued to throw stones.
They then set alight a structure and a vehicle, while their parents stood nearby in a tense standoff with police.
Police spokeswoman Constable Noloyiso Rwexana said a case of public violence was under investigation. She added that nine suspects had been arrested and would appear in court once charged.
She said police will continue to monitor the situation.
As the protest raged on Tuesday hundreds of pupils in Grabouw were left stranded.
Umyezo Wama Apile School principal Gladys Badela said they were unable to enter the area as it was not safe for teachers.
While residents said it was not part of the plan to shut down schools, Groenberg Senior Secondary School matric pupil Lee-Kay Jantjies said: “We are preparing to write our mid year exams. The people do not think about us and our future.”
Resident Thembinkosi Sithuka said they were concerned that schools were closed due to the protest.
“But how are our children going to go to school when we know when they come back they won’t have homes.”
Police monitored the area throughout the night.
Western Cape Education Department MEC Debbie Schäfer said three high schools and two primary schools were affected.
“This is a very important time of year for all pupils but especially for the Grade 12 pupils. June exams are just around the corner.
“These exams inform our National Senior Certificate candidates about where their abilities lie as they prepare for the most important exams of their lives.”
Schäfer said the department’s priority was to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers. “We will come down hard on anyone who wishes to disrupt teaching and learning in our schools and we will not hesitate to lay criminal charges in terms of the SA Schools Act against any person who seeks to prevent pupils and teachers from attending school.”
Cape Argus, Cape Times and Daily Voice