Violence in Hangberg over abalone raid
A police investigation is under way to determine whether residents or police fired the first shots after violence erupted in Hangberg during a search for an abalone syndicate on Wednesday.
The drama unfolded soon after 8am, during a joint raid by police, a technical response team and Marine Coastal Management officials.
At about 5am, the Special Investigating Unit was told that five boats and approximately 50 men were illegally diving for abalone near Robben Island, said Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Lionel Adendorf later.
He said they had watched the group with police and followed the “gang” until they stopped in the Karbonkelberg area, where about 50 bags of abalone were taken into two different premises in Rhode Vos Road.
But as team members started searching homes, the area quickly became the scene of a violent riot.
Cars were pelted with rocks and roads were barricaded as residents retaliated against the police. Shots were heard. One police officer was taken to hospital and several others received minor injuries.
Later, residents stood at the sides of the roads while others clutched bullet shells they had found.
Johan October said he had picked up two shells in Karbonkel Street, and another bullet that had not fired, further up the road. “It sounded like a war and people were running all over the place. We chased the kids away from the streets,” he said.
Maria Agulhas was on her way to work at the World of Birds in Hout Bay when she heard shots and saw people running. “I couldn’t go to work. There were no taxis and I was scared of the loud sound of the bullets. I ran home and watched from my window.”
Police spokesman Warrant Officer November Filander said that when the team started the raid, shots were fired and residents began throwing stones and blocking roads in and out of Hangberg.
He said police were investigating whether it was the police or residents who fired the first shot.
One person had been arrested for public violence.
According to Adendorf, abalone was already depleted in certain areas, although the need for legitimate permit holders to maintain access to the resource was understood by the department. He said they had already declared zero-catches in various areas and defended, in the high court, the right of legitimate permit holders to attain their quota in other areas.
But he condemned the “callous and violent attack on members of two law enforcement agencies” on Wednesday and called on residents to work with them to see the arrest and prosecution of those involved in illegal poaching.
Adendorf said their cars were damaged and one officer was injured when residents pelted them with stones and shot at them with boat flares.
But some residents believed they were being “harassed” by the raid team. Ras Naf said residents were tired of being harassed and should instead be offered jobs because they were fisherman, not criminals.
Shortly before 10am, angry residents started throwing more rocks at traffic as a fire engine and police van tried to re-enter Hangberg.
Filander said by midday the roads were cleared and the earlier violence had subsided.
Meanwhile, the Hangberg Peace and Mediation Forum has called for an urgent meeting with Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer, describing the tactics used by police as “heavy-handed”.
Forum spokesman Greg Louw said although they respected the police’s position to target individuals wanted for the illegal trade of abalone, their use of gunfire had provoked the community.
“We expect a certain level of professionalism. They were shooting their guns in the air, and chasing people in and out of the homes of elderly residents. They said they were targeting certain homes, but the effect was to provoke the entire community.
“It was so tense that I could not even move across to speak to the police to try to defuse the situation,” he said. - Cape Argus