Informal settlement residents at Mahube Valley rebuild their shacks in the area where the buffer wall proposed by city mayor Solly Msimanga will be built. Picture: Jacques Naude
Pretoria - Solly’s wall will not be built here. This was the declaration by angry informal settlement residents at Mahube Valley, far east of the city, who were rebuilding their shacks damaged during last week’s clashes with their formal home neighbours.

They were referring to the wall separating the areas proposed by executive mayor Solly Msimanga following last week’s unrest.

Social media lit up after the announcement, with critics likening the proposal to the Berlin Wall and the apartheid-era Group Areas Act.

Msimanga’s spokesperson Samkelo Mgobozi yesterday told the Pretoria News the mayoral office would provide further clarity on the matter this week.

However, residents of the informal settlement said the wall would take up the space occupied by their shacks and was not practical - it would not solve their problems.

“As far as we are concerned, there will be no wall built here; the mayor must meet us, address our issues and discuss a way forward,” an irate resident said.

Soon afterwards, other residents threw the Pretoria News out of the area, saying they hated the media.

Last week, Msimanga told the residents, who had engaged in a night of fighting, that a buffer between the two areas was the only solution. It was the kind of permanent solution that would ensure the safety of both community groups, he said.

Residents of the informal settlement were accused of crossing over to the formal homes to use toilets, and of illegally connecting their shacks to the electricity and water grid. The formal house owners said their utility bills had increased as a result.

The problems had persisted for about a year but reached a head last week. Petrol bombs were thrown across the area, damaging houses and forcing people to find alternative accommodation ahead of the weekend.

A stand-off ensued during which the police were intimidated and had to deploy nyalas to restore order and maintain a level of peace, with each faction of the residents blaming the other for the problems.

The formal homeowners said they were tired of paying high bills, only for their neighbours to illegally connect themselves and use water and electricity at no cost. The informal settlement residents said the issues raised were being exaggerated.

The clashes led to a mini-substation being set alight and houses and shacks torched with petrol bombs from both directions. A fire engine was also damaged.

During the day the formal homeowners rushed to court and sought an interdict to have the squatters removed from their neighbourhood.

It was not granted; instead the court ordered illegal squatters refrain from damaging the houses and intimidating them their wealthier neighbours.

Msimanga went to the area and spoke to the warring parties, saying a wall would have to go up to separate them and put a stop to the ongoing battle.

“As part of a permanent solution we want to create a buffer between the house owners and the illegal squatters. This will ensure the safety of both communities' members,” he told them. Then he said the wall would go up “as soon as possible”.

Squatters at the time said the suggestion of a wall was a good idea. It would put an end to baseless accusations, they said.

But by the weekend they had had a change of heart as they tried to gather up what was left from their burnt houses. They carted corrugated metal and drew up plans to rebuild their damaged homes.

The informal settlers also said they had learnt with shock of another location that had been identified for them to make space for the wall.

“The mayor told us he was going to come and take those who lost their homes and belongings and place them in different churches so they could have a place to sleep until he can find a place for us to stay, but here we are, still waiting for him,” said a shack dweller.

They reported they were squatting with neighbours in cramped spaces.

Pretoria News