Twenty-one people were arrested during housing protests in the towns of Riebeek-Kasteel and Riebeek West in the Western Cape on Monday.
Three of the men arrested will face charges of business robbery, while others face charges of public violence. This after what started as a protest march on Sunday spiralled into an angry crowd of about 600 people protesting in the two towns from Sunday into Monday.
“A gate of a local clinic was damaged, a vehicle was overturned and a liquor store was vandalised and liquor was stolen,” said police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk.
“The protestors also broke the windows of a municipal building and other private properties were also vandalised.”
“We appeal to those participating in the protest to do so within the ambit of the law,” he said.
Swartland Municipality municipal manager Joggie Scholtz said he and other officials had to be escorted to safety by police when the mood changed at a town hall meeting with community leaders in Riebeek West on Monday morning.
“I am worried about the magnitude of the damage during the protests,” said Scholtz.
He said at issue in Riebeek West was who qualifies for a 244-unit housing project. The first house has been built and the contractor has installed services, but the houses are only for people already on the waiting list. People with disabilities, the elderly and military veterans are also taken into account.
The first 70 people got their letters last week, telling them they would get their houses.
The cut-off age is also 35-years-old, leaving many residents, particularly young people worrying about whether they will ever qualify.
“I can’t allow queue jumping,” said Schotlz.
In Riebeek-Kasteel, the twin town about 6km away, there is no housing planned at all for the next five years, he explained.
“And there are a lot of backyard dwellers and they have high rentals,” said Scholtz.
Two weeks ago the council removed a group of people who started building on municipal land, a move that some people got angry.
He said a library’s windows were broken, but the inside remained safe, and private properties were damaged.
Two meetings were scheduled with community leaders and the SA Human Rights Commission in the “neutral” venue of Malmesbury on Tuesday, to resolve the issues.
“Communication is important,” said Scholtz.
He said that the gravitation to towns of farm workers struggling to find work was contributing to the housing shortages.
‘Smashed to pieces’
Meanwhile, Roger Roman, chairperson of the Community Policing Forum (CPF) in the valley said: “The police are running themselves ragged.”
Police rushed to stop the brick and balustrade wall from being “smashed to pieces”. After that, they sped off to another incident.
“I am standing on a mountain and I can see smoke coming from Esterhof and blue lights, so there is something happening there now.”
He said reinforcements had been brought in from Milnerton, Malmesbury, Paarl and Moreesburg, and the public order police were also shuttling between the towns.
A community spokesperson was not immediately available to comment, but Roman said that there is deep frustration and anger about the “apartheid” that continues in the valley’s towns.
“There is a possibility that this is all about making the Western Cape ungovernable before the elections next year, but you couldn’t do that if people did not have grievances,” said Roman.
‘White town, brown town’
He said the area was characterised by a quaint “white town” run by the Democratic Alliance, where life is good and, “literally across the railway line” a “brown town” struggling with Tik addiction, unemployment and housing shortages.
He explained that the area in the Riebeek Valley was taken from Khoi inhabitants by Dutch colonial master Jan van Riebeeck when he expanded his reach from Cape Town. A castle was built and named after him in Riebeek-Kasteel.
Responding to a rumour that “Gatvol Capetonian” Fadiel Adams might be behind the protests, Adams vehemently denied this.
“I have never been to Riebeek,” Adams told News24.
However, he was planning to visit on Tuesday to get information on why people were protesting.
“We might go to rally the communities to stand up for their rights.”
* The N7 in Cape Town between Plattekloof Road and Potsdam Road as well as part of Prince George Drive in Plumstead were again closed on Monday night due to protests, Netwerk24 reported.