Leadership in Parkwood are hoping their plight for housing in the area will be taken seriously.
A meeting between the community, MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela and other department officials was being held yesterday, Tuesday May 22, at the time of Southern Mail’s deadline, at the field alongside Prince George Drive, after a peaceful protest turned violent during the weekend.
About 500 people had gathered on the open field between Prince George Drive and Walmer Road, peacefully making fires, putting up pegs and marking pieces of land on Saturday May 19.
The residents insist that the actions were not an attempt at land grabbing but rather a ceremonial marking of land they wish to reclaim.
Voice of Parkwood founder and chairperson, Paul Phillips, said the protest was peaceful and there were no altercations at all but on Sunday May 20, law enforcement agencies took down the pegs, tents, gazebos and half built structures on the field.
Mr Phillips said law enforcement agencies were hostile towards residents.
“They started slapping people around, swearing and were being very violent. Obviously the community started to react. It escalated and became out of control,” said Mr Phillips.
Prince George Drive was then closed and law enforcement agencies shot tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
Shops such as Pick * Pay Express in Lake Road and other smaller shops were looted. The rent office and ward councillor’s office were vandalised and equipment were stolen
Mr Phillips condemned the violence and looting.
“The looting was part of criminals who took advantage of the opportunity and looted. We as leadership personally went out to the area to get most of the things that were stolen from the rent office back and we were able to restore some peace,” he said.
“That’s all we want. There is a feeling of comradeship between the community and we want to keep the peace because this is not a land grab, we are just coming together on the piece of land to show our frustration at the lack of housing for our people. So we are ready to negotiate with the authorities,” said Mr Phillips.
Warrant Officer Wynita Kleinsmith said Acacia Road, Heath Road, Prince George Drive and Walmer Road were closed at one point.
“Criminal charges that were laid as a result of protesting includes for illegal trespassing, public violence, malicious damage to property for the vehicles that were stoned, burglary at Pick * Pay Express shop and arson and burglary for the rent office and civic centre,” she said.
Phillip Bam, spokesperson for the Grassy Park Community Police Forum (CPF), agreed that the peaceful demonstration on Saturday was to show the need for housing for the backyard dwellers of Parkwood.
“This was not about grabbing land and then hoping to get a house just because you come do some violence in other people’s backyards. The gangsters who took advantage of the situation are opposed by the good people of Parkwood who recovered the things they stole from the councillor’s office,” said Mr Bam.
“Those people can’t be waiting for 30 years in a backyard. There are so many good things happening in Parkwood. Good people live there,” he said.
Max Swartz said the Parkwood community is being portrayed wrongly.
“We are completely peaceful and law enforcement agencies were violent towards our people for no reason. Those other criminal elements took advantage of the situation and of our cause. We are peacefully protesting the need for housing. Our people need houses and we ask for proper input from government to have our demands met and we will not stop until we have proper answers,” said Mr Swartz.