Things in the small fishing village of Hangberg in Hout Bay, are not as bad as is being portrayed. These were the sentiments of many residents living on the hilltop community, who feel Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille is painting Hangberg in a bad light in the media.
VOC News visited the community this week following some violent protests, which saw cars torched and buildings damaged. Residents were protesting the arrests of three men, who had breached a high court order preventing them from erecting structures on the firebreak on the Sentinel Mountain.
The court order followed a mediation process between the Western Cape government, SanParks and the community, after scores of people were evicted from their homes on the firebreak in September 2010, during violence clashes with police and law enforcment officials. Through a body called the Hangberg Peace and Mediation Forum, it was agreed that no erecting of houses could take place, due to safety reasons. However, Premier Helen Zille also believed this area on the firebreak needed to be cleared of residents as it was being used as a safehaven for drug dealers.
“When you hear her [Zille] talk about Hangberg she’ll say it’s a den of crime, or there are drug lords living here. She says the community protects criminal elements, but,” resident Leon Marcus says, looking around. “I don’t see any mansions around here. If there were drug lords here they’d be a bit richer than the rest of us suffering here, wouldn’t they? There is drugs around here, but we don’t support the dealers.”
Marcus, a devout Rastafarian, says the community is anti-crime, and vehemently against the use of illegal drugs. But the treatment of the community by authorities is what sparked the near-riot on Tuesday morning.
“If the police were to come here, and want to break down the door of a drug dealer I’ll move right out of the way so they can do their job. I’m a rasta, I don’t stand behind the use of tik, mandrax and other things, so why would I?
But if the police come through here in the early hours of the morning wanting to break down the door of a man who happened to build his house in a place where he shouldn’t have, I’m going to try to stop them. Most of us, here in Hangberg, would try to stop them, because why do they need to do such things when no one can see them. That man has a family, where are they supposed to go at that time of the morning?”
The South African Police Service earlier this week said a group of residents had been detained; some speculated that it was this action that sparked the violent protest on Tuesday. But another resident, Kenny Meyer, echoes Marcus’s stance. He says the majority of Hangberg residents are poor, and have nowhere to go when police come knocking.
On a walk up into the mountain, VOC News saw the small ditch that is the border between so-called inhabitable land and land past the fire-break that is the reasoning behind the City’s enduring plan to demolish homes behind it. A young man known only as Romeo explained:
“My house is right here,” he points vaguely, “I’ve got a power pole in my yard but I don’t even have electricity. And half of the time the people that are supposed to have it, the ones that went to court over it, don’t even get it.”
Marcus says the cutting of electricity, sanitation and water is a regular occurrence in Hangberg. In Salamander Street, near the epicenter of the protests earlier this week, he points towards a sewerage pipe.
“In other communities, and this is not meant to be racist but this is a fact, across the Bay, when people in the whiter areas are behind on their water, or electricity bill, they get served a notice. Here, your stuff just gets cut off. You should be here some days when the sewerage is blocked or stops working, the smell of [faeces] just hangs in the air.”
In a call to the City of Cape Town on Tuesday, VOC News was told by a representative that the protests were a matter between SAPS, the Justice system and residents. VOC (Andriques Che Petersen)