Vehicles, shops torched in Paarl housing protest
Cape Town - Ongoing violence rocked the Mbekweni area again on Monday night, with irate residents setting Drakenstein Municipality vehicles and foreign-owned spaza shops alight in a protest over housing.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut confirmed that police were out in force on Monday night trying to quell rising tension, and cases of public violence were being investigated.
Police arrested two people early on Tuesday morning after they were discovered with items from a shop that had been looted. The violence was sparked by an interdict ordering the removal of residents illegally occupying municipal land earmarked for housing development.
Community Policing Forum (CPF) chairman Dumisani Mziki said two trucks were burnt and shops, some owned by Somalis, were damaged and looted last night. He said residents in the area had been complaining about the availability of council houses, as backyard dwellers felt the brunt of not being sheltered over the winter months.
“The residents did not follow the legal processes to occupy that land. The police removed them, but not before criminal elements in the protest burnt cars and shops owned by Somali refugees. They even set the Thusong Centre alight, burnt cars and tyres,” he said.
Mziki said that the violent protest, raging since last week, was providing fertile ground for gangsterism and xenophobia. “People here are living in fear. It is difficult to move around in the community. The air is tense.”
The CPF wants the municipality and the Human Settlements Department to meet community leaders to forge a way forward.
A statement issued by the Drakenstein Municipality stated that illegal occupation of the land at the weekend had forced the municipality to obtain an interdict against further land invasion.
Last Friday, a group of people knocked pegs into a piece of land belonging to the municipality.
Police were called in to remove the group and threats of further violence were made.
Sporadic flare-ups ensued over the weekend, in which one municipal firefighter was stoned and injured. The firefighter was attending to a fire at the Mbekweni swimming pool. During the running protests, the Thusong Centre was also damaged.
Drakenstein mayor Conrad Poole said the land in contention was earmarked and zoned for a possible mixed housing development.
“The project must still be consulted and finalised. There have been no promises made to the community by the municipality, regardless of the fact that they assume that the previous ANC dispensation promised them that erf 557 would be earmarked for housing, and alluded to discussion with the previous mayor.
“As the current mayor, I communicated to them that without any paperwork that proves their claims, from where I am sitting, there there were no promises made by the municipality or the council,” Poole said.
Poole and officials met representatives of the group on Monday. Discussions ended without any resolutions because the representatives are said to have insisted that the piece of land under discussion should be handed over to them.
Poole called for calm and asked residents not to resort to violence to resolve issues. “The illegal occupation of municipal land will not be allowed. Violence and the destruction of public property will not be tolerated. There are various structures available for residents to discuss their grievances with the municipality without resorting to violence,” Poole said.