28/03/2014. Streets in Mamelodi East Extension 11 were blockaded with burning tyres and rocks in protest against the city council not granting their informal settlement a permanent seidential status. Picture: Masi Losi

Pretoria - Smoke billowed into the air as residents of Mamelodi East Extension 11 blocked the streets with burning tyres and stones, demanding that the Tshwane municipality grant them permanent stands.

Motorists, including taxi drivers, had to find an alternative route through a neighbouring informal settlement because the main road into the area was inaccessible.

A group of residents were singing struggle songs and toyi-toying under the watchful eye of community leaders, who had urged them to protest peacefully since the protest action erupted on Thursday night.

Isaac Swafo, a residents’ committee member, said workers from the area had not gone to work and children did not attend the last day of the first school term in order to make themselves heard.

“The protest will continue into the night and the leadership will be here to ensure no property is damaged or shops looted,” said Swafo.

Tempers have been rising since the allocating of stands and relocation of residents started last weekend.

The protest has its roots in a 2012 petition in which the residents told the City of Tshwane they had been living there for 20 years and deserved permanent residential status, since they were located on a rightfully mapped area.

They pointed to inequalities that had resulted in other newer informal settlements getting permanent residential status ahead of them.

The petitions committee resolved that a meeting be convened to discuss the concerns of the petitioners. However, the residents claimed such a meeting never took place.

Tired of waiting, residents came up with a plan to allocate the stands to people already living in the informal settlement, using the city’s layout map, and relocate them accordingly.

Several shacks have already been relocated and their owners helped to settle into their new homes.

The residents had a first brush with the law on Monday when metro police officers dismantled a shack and took the pieces away. Community leaders have laid charges against the metro police.

“When we went to complain to the police bigwigs we were told we would be shot,” Swafo said.

Local councillor Philemon Magoboya said he was working frantically to defuse the tensions. “It’s not safe in there, so I have asked police to accompany me so we can talk to the community leaders and determine the way forward,” he said yesterday. Magoboya said the city came up with a plan to relocate 150 households to permanent stands in another informal settlement in Hatherley, redevelop Mamelodi East Extension 11 and allocate stands to the remaining people there.

The 150 households were identified and 96 of them relocated by the end of last year, but the other 54 refused and indicated they were not willing to move, Magoboya said. “They said that if the city did not allocate permanent stands to them in Extension 11, they would do it themselves. They started doing this last week.” However, Swafo said they did not want to relocate to Hatherley because the area had no basic services.

“We don’t want to relocate. All we need is permission to carry on with the land occupation.

“We have the right to be given the land. Since 1994, we haven’t received any assistance from the government.”

- Pretoria News Weekend