Protesters face off against police in Vrygrond

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Residents call for an end to shack demolitions

Photo of children throwing stones
Protesters throw bricks and glass bottles at police during a protest which started after shacks were demolished.
Text by . Photos by .

Protesters, many of them children, faced off against police in Vrygrond on Monday morning, with protesters throwing bricks and bottles and police firing rubber bullets and teargas.

Protesters burned tyres and rubble at the intersection of Prince George and Vrygrond Avenue. Schools were closed and vehicles, including ambulances, were blocked. Two other groups burned tyres, chanted and sang in front of Capricorn Primary School.

The protesters wanted law enforcement officials to stop demolishing their shacks in Xakabantu and a solution to the transport problem between Vrygrond and the Blue Route Mall in Tokai. At present taxis from Vrygrond are not allowed to park at the Mall and the protesters wanted the City of Cape Town to facilitate dialogue between mall management and the Vrygrond Development Forum.

They were also demanding the release of three community leaders who were arrested in the morning.

SAPS spokesperson Mihlali Majikela said that a case of public violence had been opened for investigation.

By the late afternoon, Malusi Booi, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, had agreed to meet with the community.

Thandiswa Mabona said the protest had been triggered by the demolition of about 50 shacks on 3 October at Xakabantu. “But in June Booi promised us that there will be no demolitions again.”

However Booi told GroundUp in an email that no such promises were made. “The Court has granted a final order to the City to prevent the illegal occupation of the land in question.”

Protesters taunted police by shaking their buttocks at them.

Mabona said the shack he used to share with his wife and two children was destroyed last week while they were at work. The family has temporarily moved with his cousin. He lost a month’s groceries, a TV, a decoder, clothes and building material.

Sive Mlungwana, a resident from nearby Overcome, said he owned a brick house but was there to support the protesters. He said that the shacks that law enforcement officials had broken down cost about R1,000 to R1,500 to build and many families had sacrificed to raise money for building materials.

He also complained that there is no fire brigade in the area. “When there is a fire, it takes them about three hours to reach here. We don’t have a police station and a high school.”

A police officer fires tear gas at protesters. Residents said that the protest started as early as 1am.

Community leader Mike Khumalo said the demolitions had been going on since 2016. The land the residents wanted had been identified as a nature reserve without consulting the people who were occupying it.

Robin Carlisle of Marina Da Gama Association addressed the protesters at Capricorn Primary, calling for peace. “We are neighbours. We are standing together with the Vrygrond community. Officials should come down and listen to your grievances. We also want a police station, and for the problem of poor transport to be solved.”

The protesters responded: “The neighbours should come and toyi toyi with us.”

Booi said the City was “mindful of the acute need for housing opportunities across the metro”.

“We are making every effort to address this matter and to provide services within a planned and fair manner wherever possible within the constraints that are being experienced. We condemn in the strongest possible terms any protest action that is not peaceful and that affects the rights of law abiding residents,” he said.

Two children being detained by police. They were taken into the police van but released shortly after.

A woman scolds the children after they were released by police. She smacked one of them hard at the back of the head and told them that they must go home.

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Dear Editor

Vrygrond is situated in one square kilometer of land. One of the oldest townships in Western Cape. It is generally a peaceful community with an estimated 40,000 residents. It is multi-racial and multi-national. Each yard is literally an informal settlement that hosts anything from four to 32 households, but one bin per yard. There are about 1,200 yards in Vrygrond distributed by the first democratic government between 1994 and 2004.

The City of Cape Town and government has neglected Vrygrond. No clinic, high school, recreation centre, fire department, police station and in some areas basic services such as water, sanitation and waste services. The two primary schools and NGOs that exist were not built nor funded by government. To a certain extent government offers financial support. It comes as a pain when one drives through the M5 and see developments in neighboring communities. Lavender hill alone has three primary schools and one high school. One wonders what is the sin of Vrygrond.

I am a social worker, child protection officer, community liaison, interim chairperson of the Vrygrond Faith Based Sector and a religious leader who founded a mission centre in Vrygrond. I serve the community day and night as a religious leader and a social worker. From the community's meeting place, I facilitate a mission centre aimed at teaching people how to serve selflessly and with love through a Christian ethos. The terrain is difficult as a missionary. Sadly several times we were stopped from praying and holding services, all because of frustrations and slow pace of government intervention.

I managed to negotiate for the Mayor to address Vrygrond on the issue of land, housing and other services. There is no unity in leadership in terms of strategy and serving together.

The term of office of the forum is ending with effect of 12 October, only three office bearers remain of which one is arrested while majority exited or simply chose not to participate any further due to infighting. The forum is established as a vehicle for peace and development in the community.