Uneasy calm shattered in Masiphumelele

| Bernard Chiguvare, Masixole Feni & GroundUp staff
Police and protesters confront each other in Masiphumelele earlier today. Photo by Masixole Feni.

A temporary respite from violence in Masiphumelele ended today, as police and over a thousand residents clashed. Residents blocked the road to Kommetjie with burning tyres. Police used teargas, rubber bullets and arrests to disperse the protest.

Masiphumelele is a township of about 20,000 people situated in the south of Cape Town. It is a predominantly black township, situated close to the mostly coloured low-income township of Ocean View, and the mostly white upper middle-class suburb of Kommetjie. Masiphumelele’s residents have, for months, been demanding more police officers in the township. Ocean View’s police station serves all three neighbourhoods. A new commander, SAPS spokesperson Captain Angie Latchman informed GroundUp, was appointed to the police station in September. Latchman told GroundUp on 17 September that seven new constables were set to join the station this month. Despite several telephone calls to the police, GroundUp has not been able to confirm yet whether the new constables have indeed started working in the area.

Masiphumelele flared up two weeks ago when a boy was murdered and a woman was raped on the same day. Some residents responded by surrounding and killing one of the alleged perpetrators. A state vehicle was also apparently burnt. Since then there have been protests and much tension in the community.

Today’s protest occurred because many Masiphumelele residents believe that seven people arrested on 20 September for public violence last week are innocent. A resident told GroundUp that there is a view that the police target innocent people on their way home from shebeens, such as the seven who were arrested. The seven were refused bail by the Simon’s Town Magistrate Court on 23 September. They appeared in court again today and were released by this afternoon on R500 bail each. Hundreds of residents wanted to go to the court hearing today but they were under the impression that SAPS would allow only 30 people to attend. This is what apparently led to the outbreak of today’s violence.

According to a resident, at about 7:30am, police fired rubber bullets and teargas. Protesters retaliated by throwing stones at the police. The resident says SAPS gave marchers ten minutes to disperse but the protesters responded by insisting everyone should be allowed to attend the Simon’s Town court hearing. There were about 50 police officers at the scene. The protest started off with about 100 people in the early morning but swelled to over 1,000 during the course of the day.

A similar version of events was provided Captain FC Van Wyk of the SAPS Western Cape Media Centre. He said that at about 5:30am 100 community members from Masiphumelele staged a protest, blocking Kommetjie road by erecting barricades, burning tyres and making it difficult for entry or exit into the area. He confirmed that the crowd grew to over 1,000. He said 27 people were arrested for public violence, but no injuries were reported.

GroundUp photographer Masixole Feni was on the scene and observed that the police appeared to be targeting women when they arrested people. His photographs below support this view.

Yesterday, it appeared that peace might have been restored to the township after a meeting was held between City of Cape Town officials and the residents of Masiphumelele at the township’s community hall. Pastor Nomzamo Mqhathane, who attended the meeting, told GroundUp yesterday, “The situation is on and off. I cannot say it is 100% calm.” But by this morning it became clear that calm has not been restored. Mqhathane said, “There have been a lot of meetings going on within the community and some state officials have come to listen to our concerns.” But she also said the community is yet to see something tangible that will curb criminal activities. Mqhathane believes police should work towards weeding out drug lords in the area.

According to Brigadier Aaron Mlenga at yesterday’s community meeting, police are making an effort to bring back stability to the area. In response to a question that implied there was a cosy relationship between the cops and criminals, the brigadier noted the appointment of the new Ocean View station commander, suggesting that this might turn around the township’s crime situation.

It is a hope echoed by Felicity Purchase, Masiphumelele’s ward councillor. She said, “There have been complaints about police response times for the past years but now that there is a new station commander at Ocean View we hope there is going to be a change, though it will take a while.” Purchase confirmed that several meetings have taken place between the community, church leaders and the police. She says police officials from all over Cape Town are patrolling the area day and night, and this has improved the situation.

Accusations of drug dealing by some Masiphumelele residents have been directed at foreign nationals, Nigerians in particular, leading to concerns for their safety. But Mohammed Awal, 31, from Nigeria is sceptical. He sells burglar bars, and says he did not stop working during the unrest in the past few weeks. “I am called now and again by different people to work in their areas but I come back here. Some people are accusing Nigerians of selling drugs but community [members] have searched my place and some of my fellow Nigerians, and they could not find any drugs,” he said.

Awal said some Nigerians operating in Masiphumelele have closed the containers they use for business purposes and left. Finding out their concerns though is challenging. “The problem is we come from different regions of Nigeria and we speak different languages so it is difficult to hold meetings as people from one country.”

Photos from today’s protest

All photos by Masixole Feni.

This story was originally published at about 1:15pm on 29 September and then updated throughout the day with additional information. It was re-edited and finalised after 6pm on 29 September.

A correction was made to this story on 13 October. Captain Latchman is a spokesperson for SAPS and not the new head of Ocean View police station. We regret the error.

TOPICS:  Crime Government

Next:  Pensioners march for R5,000 per month

Previous:  Getting the facts right on assessments

© 2016 GroundUp. Creative Commons License
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.