Riot on the streets

This car was set alight.

A service delivery protest in the Vrygrond area spiralled out of control, resulting in damage to three vehicles and looting at the Pick n Pay Liquor store at Capricorn Square, on Monday April 16.

The protest started around noon and carried on late into the night.

Muizenberg police spokesman Captain Stephen Knapp confirmed that no injuries had been reported. He, however, confirmed the damage to vehicles, the looting, and that two male residents of Vrygrond, aged 16 and 34 years old, had been arrested for public violence and a 27-year-old woman arrested for the business robbery at Pick n Pay.

The build up to the protest started when a group of people from the United Homeless People’s Development Association (UHPDA) threatened to occupy land if their plight for housing was not taken seriously.

They made their way to the sub-council office in Lotus River on Monday April 16 as part of a placard protest.

However, the organisation’s founder, Howard Soetwater said there had been no officials to meet with them as the meeting had apparently been cancelled without their knowledge. Mr Soetwater said many of the members of the UHPDA were backyard dwellers in Retreat and surrounding areas, including informal settlements such as Cuba Heights, Vrygrond and Capricorn.

After the UHPDA left the placard protest Mr Soetwater told Southern Mail because the City failed to meet with them that morning they had their own meeting with members from Capricorn and Vrygrond. “It was frustrating for us because we didn’t speak to anybody.”

He said their discussion was about how the organisation’s intention was to fight for housing as many backyard dwellers were “abused” by landlords.

“The City does not communicate with us about allocated housing. But there is land available. We have earmarked land on Allenby Drive, behind Crestway High School, as well as in Peter Charles Street.”

However, Mr Soetwater said, the City had not been clear about its plans for those properties. Mr Soetwater said while discussions were carrying on peacefully in Vrygrond, “the next moment people just went beserk”.

He said things took a turn for the worse when police came on the scene shooting rubber bullets. “Violence broke out and cars were burned.”

Mr Soetwater said the members’ intention had been to discuss the R3 billion allocated for housing and they wanted to confirm with the City if some of that allocation would be going to Capricorn.

He said this fight for housing had been going on for five years. “We do not know how the housing policy works, and we think the City do not know themselves how it works. We do not get straight answers from the City.”

Mr Soetwater said more than 2 000 people protested that evening and about 200 “mischievous” people had got out of control. Mymoena Scholtz, founder of Where Rainbows Meet, said the community and leaders were horrified at the lengths residents had to go to, to be heard. “The people want land in Vrygrond to create a better space for backyard dwellers. I am in Vrygrond for more than 20 years and nothing has changed where government is concerned – no improvements and this destruction is the end result.”

Ms Scholtz said if people were not given a fair chance in life “this destruction will continue and it will just keep on filtering through the new generation”.

She added: “The youth have a lot of fire in them and some of the leaders sit back and make use of that fire.

Southern Mail spoke to Ward Councillor Gerry Gordon after she had met with the protesters on Tuesday April 17. Ms Gordon mentioned that the protesters wanted a vacant piece of land in Vrygrond “that they claim their forefathers left them.”

However, Ms Gordon said there is an investigation pending regarding that land and that she couldn’t give any comment until the court case is resolved.

Southern Mail asked for more comment but Ms Gordon was interrupted by a call from the Mayor’s office.