Philippi land occupiers describe desperation

Running battles between residents and police

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Photo of land occupation
People build shacks on City-owned land in Philippi. Photo: Vincent Lali

Dozens of residents barricaded Symphony Way with burning objects while others put up shacks in an open field in Lower Crossroads on Friday.

When police fired teargas to disperse residents they ran helter-skelter, only to return and burn barricades again.

“The cops have been firing rubber bullets and teargas at the residents and [then] leaving to deal with protests in other areas since morning today,” said Vuyiseka Gulwa (25), who watched from nearby Luzuko Township.

Another bystander said, “There are fires in various parts of Symphony Way.”

Taxi drivers ferrying commuters from Khayelitsha to Phillipi, Samora Machel and other townships have had to take alternative routes. A City spokesperson described Philippi as a no-go area with “rioting” and “total havoc”. He urged commuters not to travel through the township, especially in the vicinity of the bus depot.

Mayoral committee member JP Smith said, “We’ve had several days of sustained and coordinated land invasions on several sites around the city. City Enforcement services with [police] have been busy preventing these land invasions. The City has been inundated by calls and reports from residents in Mitchells Plain and Philippi who were concerned about the land invasions.”

Residents involved in the occupation said they could not understand why law enforcement officials refused to allow them to occupy the land. “Thugs kill people and dump them here. Why are they stopping us from building shacks in this field?” asked Patrick Mnyazana. He said law enforcement used a Nyala to flatten his shack.

Mnyazana said he moved out of his landlord’s place and erected a shack on the land because he could not afford to pay rent. “I make a living from doing odd plumbing jobs here in the township, but I’m not making enough money to pay rent for the backyard shack I stay in,” said Mnyazana.

He said his landlord demands R400 rent and R150 for electricity per month.

Cikizwa Mnyazana said criminals violate women in the open field. “Around 8am two weeks ago, I heard a woman scream and call for help while thugs attempted to rape her … My mother and I came out and called other residents. When we reached [her] … they had already stripped her.”

She said when residents go to work in the morning, criminals rob them of their belongings in the field. “Thugs strip stolen cars and rob workers and school kids here. Our occupation of the land will enhance the safety of everybody staying here.”

She said she erected a shack on the land because she wanted to have her own place. “I’m crammed in a small RDP house along with my mother, sister, brother and their kids. The house is too small for us.”

Lunga Tom said he wanted to move out of his rented backyard shack where he stays with his wife and two kids. “My wife and I are unemployed, so we have no money to pay rent. We rely on our kids’ grant for food, and it breaks my heart that I eat kids’ money … I don’t eat as much food as I used to because my kids and my wife say I eat too much. I have lost my dignity already because of unemployment.”

Tom said landlords don’t listen to their tenants’ stories about lack of money at month end. “Landlords show no mercy and they don’t laugh when the time to pay the rent comes.”

He said the absence of trains has made it impossible for him to look for jobs and get money to pay rent. “Because there are no trains, I can’t even wake up in the morning and look for a job.”

Asked what he would do if the City of Cape Town destroys his shack, he said: “They can destroy our shacks, but we will rebuild them.”

Phindiwe Rwayi said the residents occupied the land because the City is not building houses for them. “Five years ago, the City said it would build flats for us on this land, but it has never fulfilled that promise. We are tired of waiting. We don’t want to fight. All we want is to live with our kids in peace,” said Rwayi.

Western Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said: “The police continue to monitor the situation due to land invasion protests. No one was arrested.”

Anda Ntsodo, Mayoral Committee Member for Area East told GroundUp, “The City has a duty to protect City-owned land from illegal occupations.” The councillor said that a verbal warning had been given to the occupiers last weekend.

On Monday morning all roads in the area were reported to be open again.

TOPICS:  Housing

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