Activists and politicians argue over violent protests

| Mary-Anne Gontsana
A Golden Arrow bus was set alight during a service delivery protest in Philippi. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

Several protests in Cape Town’s informal settlements have turned violent in recent weeks. Residents, activist groups and the city’s political parties are blaming each other for the violence and lack of service delivery.

Last week GroundUp witnessed a service delivery protest turn violent in Philippi’s Sweet Home Farm informal settlement, with protesters smashing traffic lights and setting alight a Golden Arrow bus. A rock was also thrown through the window of the Fezeka Municipality building. Roads were left charred and rubbish was strewn about.

Patrick Lizo is a resident of Sweet Home Farm who took part in the demonstration. He explained, “We are tired of not being heard. This is not the first time that we have marched but nothing changes. Promises keep on being made but nothing comes of them. I still live in a shack which leaks when it rains. Puddles and mud form outside my house. I basically live in dirt.”

Here are some other incidents that have taken place:

  • According to Golden Arrow, on Friday night, one of their bus drivers, Sandile Hoko, was killed when the bus he was driving swerved and crashed through shacks, after being stoned by protesters in Khayelitsha.

  • According to the city, two weeks ago about 200 Phumlani Village residents damaged 12 traffic lights during a protest, causing R600,000 damage The city claims R2,6 million was spent in two weeks in July to fix traffic lights in the metro as a result of protests.

  • Protesters have also burned chemical toilets in Khayelitsha’s SST section.

The city is unimpressed. Mayor Patricia De Lille said that the millions of rands are being spent on repairing “deliberately destroyed” facilities “instead of building new ones.” She continued, “the poor are usually the ones who suffer most because of this.”

De Lille and Premier Helen Zille have blamed the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), the ANC Woman’s League, the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association and the Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations. They have laid a criminal complaint of intimidation against them. De Lille said, “It is clear from mounting evidence that these protests are being coordinated and controlled. I have viewed video footage of a protest in the early hours of Monday morning, on the corner of Lansdowne Road and Duinefontein Road, near Sweet Homes Farm. The footage clearly shows how the actions of protesters are being carefully marshalled and controlled by certain identifiable individuals.”

Zille and De Lille have offered a R50,000 reward to anyone who could provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for the stoning of the Golden Arrow bus that led to Hoko’s death.

They stated, “The ANC Youth League must also be held accountable for this terrible sequence of events, following their calls to target public transport as part of their ‘ungovernability’ campaign. It is more than despicable to target innocent commuters using public transport and those responsible must face the most severe punishment possible under the law.”

Despite several requests, GroundUp could not get a response from the ANCYL in time for publication. However, we spoke to ANC councillor Andile Lili, whose ward is in Khayelitsha. He said the DA was feeling pressure because the city and provincial budgets favoured affluent areas. He said, “The budget does not accommodate people on the ground. It does not address their needs. It only caters for their people. We are fighting for our people’s needs so we are not going to stand back and watch while our people are marching. We will march with them. We will support the protesters, all of them, no matter what they are protesting for, whether it is for service delivery or housing, even if we as councillors get arrested.”

However, Lili continued, “We condemn the violence that happens in protests. We don’t support it. If they want to be violent they must go to the City of Cape Town and be violent there.” He accused people of attacking Golden Arrow buses of hooliganism who had nothing to do with protesting. “You attack a bus and then you injure people. That person you injure could be someone’s parent. We want protests that are managed,” he explained.

The Social Justice Coalition has been running a campaign for improved sanitation in Khayelitsha. A researcher with the organisation, Axolile Notywala, said it was obvious that people were getting frustrated with poor services but violent protests were not a solution. He said they just made things worse. “What happened on Friday is really sad. People’s lives are now at risk due to these violent protests. There have been reports of people threatening to stop buses and taxis from operating to make the city ungovernable. Innocent people who are also affected by poor service delivery become victims. This is just unacceptable.

“Everyone has a right to protest but should do so peacefully. You can’t protest for services while you are disrupting services. People claim to be representing the poor in these protests but the poor are the ones who end up being the targets of these protests. This should not be mainly about politics between the DA and ANC, but it should be about the prioritisation of basic services for those in need. Wanda Bici [a colleague of Notywala] said ‘burning a tyre today won’t give you a house tomorrow, it will only give you a pothole.’ There needs to be proper and meaningful engagement between government and communities. Everyone needs to play a role.”

Vuyiseka Dubula, the Treatment Action Campaign’s general secretary, lives in Philippi. She said there were no coordinated social movements in Phillipi and this resulted in an absence of leadership. She explained, “Ward councillors and political parties should come out and address the people. I am not condoning the violence but the people are angry and they are venting. People have been living in these poor conditions for 12 years now. Traffic lights have not been working for three months, but when they are fixed they get damaged again. Who will eventually listen to the cries of poor people on service delivery? How many court cases, marches and protests should prove the failure to address their needs? On Monday in my township from 2am the protests started and they closed down my area. No one could leave, not even school children. Shops had to close. The protesters were fighting with the workers who wanted to go to work. They burned down the traffic lights more than once regardless of businesses on that road, pedestrians and cars. They threw stones at passing cars in Lansdowne Road. They burned a bus. They were carrying tools. Sadly most were young people.”

Brian Ashley of the Democratic Left Front, which works closely with the Progressive Youth Movement (PYM) —an organisation that has been involved in the protests in Khayelitsha for sanitation and other services— told GroundUp that the Democratic Left Front “prioritizes militant mass action as it helps to build a counter-power to business and the state and raises people’s consciousness of the power relations that are arraigned against them.”

He continued, “The tactics used so far by PYM and the SST section community [in Khayelitsha] have ensured that the City Council has responded by meeting with the SST community and agreeing to install flush toilets and remove the buckets.” Ashley said that instead of burning the toilets ahead of the meeting with city officials today, the community intended to remove the bucket toilets and bring them to the meetings, saying “we do not want these things. You take them and use them in your community [or] suburb.”

TOPICS:  Crime Human Rights Sanitation

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