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City calls for Priority Committee on protest action

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The City of Cape Town has approached the South African Police Service (SAPS) to establish a priority committee to investigate protest action amidst an alarming spike in violent demonstrations in the city in recent months. Service delivery protests have erupted across 34 areas, with communities such as Siqalo in Mitchells Plain, Parkwood, Woodlands, Vrygrond the most volatile. Over the past month, aggrieved residents have taken to the streets with their demands, with some resorting to barricading roads, vandalism and looting of shops.

During a meeting with SAPS and members of the provincial cabinet last week, SAPS indicated that there had been 145 protest actions in the first four and a half months of this year compared to 84 during the same period in 2017. This represents a 73% increase in protest incidents that have grown progressively more violent. The City said its own statistics corroborate the trend.

“To discourage people from settling on land that is not suitable for human habitation, the Anti-land Invasion Unit removes, on average, 15 000 illegal structures and/or pegs per annum. However, in the first four months of 2018, that figure is standing at over 26 000,” said the City’s Mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith.

115 suspects arrested during the wave of protests have been charged in terms of Section 18 of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act of 2015. The act makes provision for a person convicted of tampering with or damaging essential infrastructure to be imprisoned for a period not exceeding 30 years. SAPS has indicated that they are opposing bail – a position that the City strongly supports. Smith added that the City will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to attempted land grabs across the metro.

“Invaded land often jeopardises emergency and basic service delivery and a variety of future projects to improve the living conditions of residents. Mostly, residents who invade land are the ones who ultimately have to deal with extreme flood, fire, health and safety risks when settling illegally on land that has not been earmarked for human settlement,” said Smith.

“Vulnerable people are also often asked to pay for ‘plots’ by unscrupulous individuals. These ‘plots’ are in most cases unsuitable for any sort of settlement. Land grabs are also often followed by demands for the installation of underground and other services which could impede the planned upgrade of informal settlements in other areas.”

Smith said the SAPS and the City have deployed hundreds of resources to quell these violent protests, at the “expense of other communities who are robbed of a policing presence”. While the City have yet to quantify the damage, it has most likely to run into tens of millions of rand.

But protesting residents have raised issues of police brutality during these protests, with many reports of law enforcement officials and SAPS members using rubber bullets and teargas unnecessarily on the crowds.

Smith said the City of Cape Town would support SAPS in terms of public order policing.

“The City understands that there are communities with legitimate service delivery concerns and we continue to work very hard to deliver services within the limitations of our local government mandate and associated budget. It is however becoming more and more apparent that many of these legitimate issues are being hijacked by others with criminal and political intent. We also cannot allow attempts of manipulation to force the hand of government.”

“We respect the right of communities to protest. Legal protests are approved by the City daily in response to applications in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act. However, the destruction of public property and infrastructure and placing the lives of others at risk can never be justified and can never be defended”
The looting of businesses during protests amounts to nothing more than simple criminality. said Smith. Some residents have lost their jobs due to illegal and violent protests. He reiterated that the destruction of public infrastructure makes no sense as the budget required to repair and replace destroyed public assets simply delays service delivery and removes budget that could have been used for residents.

But Smith believes it is the onus of private land owners to take all reasonable steps to protect their property from being invaded. He has urged landowners to ensure that interdicts are in place if required; that they follow legal procedures to get trespassing orders in place if need be.

The public can call the Public Emergency Communication Centre on 107 from a landline or on 021 480 7700 from a cell phone to provide anonymous information about land invasions or for further information.

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