Shacks were left damaged after violence broke out between Booysens residents and people relocated from Jeffsville informal settlement in Atteridgeville. Picture: Oupa Mokoena
Pretoria - They are coming in buses to burn our houses down, to rape our women and children. These were the sentiments of the angry community of Booysens, north-west of Pretoria, after the arrival of destitute residents of Jeffsville location.

These statements were made after violent clashes between the two groups at the weekend.

The Jeffsville community members were moved to the area last Thursday when a sinkhole threatened to swallow their homes last week.

The city relocated them as repairs in their area started.

Children walk past a sinkhole where a number of shacks were damaged in Jeffsville informal settlement in Atteridgeville. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Booysens residents put up a fight which involved setting belongings alight, physical clashes and police being called in and the firing of rubber bullets.

“My main concern stems from the increase in crime as a result of the new shack dwellers,” resident Yolandi Beneke said.

She told the Pretoria News that horrible stories had started doing the rounds since the families began erecting their shacks on the site, in Bremmer Street, last week.

“I know that they are just stories, but I think that is what caused people to go into a state of panic on their arrival,” she said.

“No one from the city bothered to tell us what was going to be happening in our own community. That is not fair.”

She said hitting each other, the burning of tyres and the shooting had not been necessary. “If they leave us alone, we will leave them alone and then maybe we can salvage the situation,” Beneke added.

She said they had to run from their homes when violence erupted on Friday evening.

“The city should have told us what was happening, what the problem was and how long they would be here for. Had the city done that, we would have left them alone. Everyone has a right to defend their area,” she said.

Hannah Smith, who has been living in the community for 20 years, was adamant that she did not want the families to move into their area.

She also said crime would go up, there would be loud music and protests and the families would pollute the air with their fires and burning of electricity cables. This wasn't an environment she wanted her children to live in.

“We are very upset that they did not tell us what they are doing to our community,” she said.

“The city representatives refused to give the community a signed letter that the people would only be staying for a (certain) period, or to listen to the people of this community saying that we don’t want them here.”

Meanwhile, the Jeffsville families said they were shocked at how cruel the Booysens community had been towards them despite countless explanations offered.

“We don’t care, we will go back to our sinking land,” one Jeffsville resident said.

The city moved 45 families to the area and placed them on a vacant piece of land.

Some packed their belongings and moved back to the dilapidated site they came from. Yesterday, 57-year-old Selina Sibiya said she had gone back because she was too old to fend off the whites who attacked them.

“I decided to just come back here and wait until it is safe to go back there or find alternative living arrangements,” she said as she sat at the site of her old Jeffsville shack. She had been hurt by the anger and needless violence of the community and opted to take her chances in the rain, with no roof over her head.

“We tried to explain our situation to them, but they chose to chase us away in the middle of the night like dogs,” she said.

Sibiya said the police had stood by and watched the residents attack them without helping. They were pelted with stones and cars were driven into their shacks on the Bremmer Street site.

Maria Mahumela, 65, could not hold back her tears as she spoke of how everything she had managed to save from the sinkhole was ruined by the rain because she had nothing but a small trailer to store some of her belongings.

“We didn’t ask for this to happen to us. All we wanted was a place to put our heads down but they wanted to kill us. I’m soaked from head to toe and there is nothing I can do but wait to hear if it is safe for us to move back."

The two elderly women sat under a small tree overlooking the Jeffsville spot where their homes used to be: “Our neighbours are trying to bring us a bit of food and wood to burn in the night and newspapers for us to cover ourselves with, because they barely have space to fit us and our belongings in their shacks.”

Mamolokoma Mabitsela said she was living in fear of her life and that of her child after members of the community threw a petrol bomb at her new shack while her 2-year-old daughter slept inside.

“They could have killed my child and that means nothing to them,” she said.

MMC for housing and human settlement Mandla Nkomo has condemned the violence.

He said the city had only moved 11 families, but the relocation of the outstanding 34 families would resume and fencing would be erected around the site in Bremmer Street.

He appealed to the warring parties to cease all acts of violence and intimidation.

“we will not allow the situation to descend into a racial war. We have no other place to relocate the distraught families to, except here in Bremmer Street,” Nkomo said.

Pretoria News