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The ongoing tension between communities in Malmesbury has resulted in continued unrest in the area. Since last Sunday, residents in the informal settlement of Silvertown have been demonstrating over basic services in a bid to force the hand of the Swartland Municipality.
Residents of Chatsworth and Riverland disputed an initial report by VOC which stated that they are unified with the Silvertown community, whose youth had embarked on protest action over water, sanitation and electricity between Monday and Thursday last week.
According to police, “sporadic incidents of public violence” occurred in Silvertown since Sunday 31st May at 8.30pm. On Tuesday, at least 200 people reportedly stoned passing cars and busses, set tyres alight and damaged an Eskom transformer.
The Swartland Municipality’s director of corporate services Madelaine Terblanche said the damage to the Eskom infrastructure left “numerous farms and households without electricity, and – in some instances – without water”. Terblanche claims that this was dealt with by Eskom, whose employees had come out under the protection of municipal law enforcement officers.
The resultant electricity disruptions to Chatsworth and Riverland is anecdotally what led to clashes between the communities, including gun violence in which at least two people were wounded on Tuesday night. Chatsworth residents claimed that the Silvertown youth threatened to burn down their houses and the area’s school. Residents said numerous injuries occurred but had not been lodged with the police.
Chatsworth resident Barend Wilks explained his version of events, saying that he and a friend had tried to drag burning tyres out of the roadway when they were thrown with stones by young boys, where after they tried to defend themselves.
“At the time we were standing under the poles, they threw two petrol bombs up to the power box which caused it to spark and catch alight. I’ve been staying here 25 years, not once did we set tyres alight or anything. They just got here. This is the third incident and, same as last time, they came and tried to have “peace talks” and we thought we came to an agreement, but they do (this) again,” Wilks said.
When VOC questioned a group of Silvertown youth about the motives behind setting the box alight, they stated that they “had to take electricity illegally” and that the next available pole happened to be in Chatsworth. They noted they were not waging an attack on residents, but admitted that it was the start of the most recent conflict between the communities.
Silvertown community leader Bongani Funiselo claimed that Chatsworth residents had hospitalized youth and “it seems like there is something more that is going on.” But Chatsworth residents rebutted that Silvertown had become violent first.
By Wednesday, tensions escalated and attempts at reconciliation broke down as soon as the protest became violent. Sources said that the adjacent communities would have supported the demonstration if it was peaceful, but the destruction to infrastructure and disruption to their daily routine, was not part of the agreement. Tyres were burnt in the single roadway leading into the area, putting a halt to transport for employees and scholars.
“They must stop making their problems our problem. They must stop tainting Chatsworth and taking away our peace so that our children can play freely in the roads again,” said Chatsworth resident Kim Terry.
“Silvertown wants free services on illegal land and that is not right because we had to pay our way to get our land and services and they are violating our human rights by holding us ransom, threatening us and taking away our freedom,” she added.
When VOC reported to the scene, community leaders had attempted to “make peace” with Silvertown youth who were growing increasingly eager to bring their issues to the fore. A large group, as seen below, was seen trying to figure out their next move following the conflict with the other areas.
Silvertown residents thereafter took to the streets once again, resulting in clashes with police. Authorities fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse a group of around 200 protestors, who had attempted to move their demonstration to the N7.
The adolescents, as young as 11, stated that their education is at risk amid the COVID-19 lockdown since they can’t charge their phones or get online without electricity. The elderly in the area, such as a well-known pensioner known as “ma Nolundi”, stated that their pleas have been ignored for years.
It comes amid an ongoing legal battle with the Swartland Municipality, which sought to evict the group of then 53 occupiers in May 2014. The South African Homeless People’s Federation NPC, however, opposed the eviction and when court resumed after being postponed to 27 August, a survey conducted at the time, discovered 206 households with a total of 542 persons. The ongoing case hit a number of speed bumps including the changing of judges and an appeal for the right to a fair trial.
Terblanche explained that Silvertown, which is now home to well over 1000 families, “is situated on private agricultural land, where people have settled illegally, erecting either formal or informal dwellings on ‘plots’ that have been sold to them illegally via, inter alia, Gumtree.”
A resident claimed that the land was sold to them by one of several brothers who inherited the land and then fled with the money, without handing over any title only a proof of payment. VOC has not been able to independently verify this, but court papers reveal that there was indeed an applicant in the initial eviction case that went missing and is still being sought.
Residents stated that the case is still underway in the Western Cape High court and its postponement due to COVID-19 has left them frustrated as the municipality continues to be mum.
“The Municipality has been part of the lawsuit by the private landowner for the eviction of the illegal squatters who initially started out as 52 households. To date the matter has not been finalised by the courts, and pending the delayed outcome of the eviction application, the number of dwellings and households in the settlement has increased dramatically and accordingly also a demand for the provision of services and infrastructure by the Municipality. Since the land in question is not municipal owned, and has not been declared a formal township, the Municipality is not in a position to provide formal services to the area and must further await the court’s ruling,” explained Terblanche.
Photo credit: Tauhierah Salie/VOCfm
According to her, the Silvertown community had access to water via a standpipe that was erected by the Municipality, while a further two standpipes, as well as water tank, was erected before lockdown commenced. Refuse is also removed from the area from a central point. Residents of the nearby formal townships of Chatsworth and Riverlands have access to all municipal services, she added.
Chatsworth residents denounced that the municipality has taken care of their needs, noting untarred roads and the presence of only one school. Silvertown residents also stated that the communal taps, as seen below, are dangerous amid the pandemic and are calling for improved services.
The spokesperson said that the electricity poles that were damaged last week were set alight again on Sunday night.
“In respect of other damage, e.g. to private property and road infrastructure, case files have been opened with the South Africa Police Services to ensure that criminal prosecutions take place,” said Terblanche.
The Municipality said it is attempting to schedule a meeting with representatives of Silvertown to discuss their demands, along with other stakeholders, including the landowner and Eskom. Ward Councillor Basil Stanley meanwhile said that an engagement is scheduled for next Thursday. Police will continue to monitor the area.