Media: “Why do we deserve the worst?” ask protesting Cape residents

10 05 2009

Brenda Nkuna
Source: West Cape News

Working under a hot sun, single mother Nolukhanyo Mgovuka, 35, plunges her spade into the hard gravel of a community-dug trench that scythes across Lansdowne Road in Cape Town. “We are willing to take rubber bullets from the police, if the City of Cape Town pretends we don’t exist. This is nothing, the N2 we are coming,” said Mgovuka, referring to the nearby national road that runs into central Cape Town.

Angry residents of BT Section informal settlement in Khayelitsha took to the streets last Monday in a protest they say is about a lack of electricity in their area.
The protests, which were the first in the City since April elections which saw power shift from the ANC to the DA, lasted the whole of last week and continued this week.

Rubbish has been burnt in the streets and there have been reports of buses being stoned.

In the last few days, residents have dug a trench across busy Lansdowne Road, neatly removing the tar and gravel beneath it to prevent traffic from using the road.

Digging trenches across roads is fast becoming the protest weapon of choice in Cape Town, with the Khayelitsha residents following the example of Du Noon and Masiphumele townships, where residents have also dug trenches in previous protests.

In between her shoveling on Wednesday, Mgovuka said she had not eaten the whole day, but that residents had “had enough of empty promises” and would continue to fight for better services.

Mgovuka said her shack had burnt to the ground twice last year because she did not have electricity and had to use candles for lighting and paraffin for cooking.

She said if people had electricity the area would be “safe to be alive”.

With electricity, she said she would be able to buy a fridge and start selling meats to make a living.

She said the community was angry with the City of Cape Town because of the lack of services. But residents also blamed ANC ward councilor Nontsomi Billie for the lack of services.

Billie, they point out, who lives in DT Section, which is next to BT Section, has had electricity installed in her area.

Dumisani Mbele, 44, said residents who made use of illegal electricity connections were subject to harassment from authorities.

He said because of a lack of toilets, residents who crossed Lansdowne Road to use bushes on the other side as a toilet had been hit by cars.

Mbele, an unemployed father of six children, the youngest of which is four, said he was concerned that his children were not getting the same treatment as other children.

Due to the lack of electricity, they could not watch TV, iron clothes or eat food kept fresh by a fridge.

The protests sparked accusations from now Western Cape premier Helen Zille that the ANC was behind the action, but this was hotly denied by the ANC.

Mbele, like other residents, denies any political element.
Rather, he said, the protest was a “weapon” so that poor people could be heard.

“Why do we deserve the worst? We will continue to fight,” he said.

Contacted for comment, Billie said there had been a meeting last week about the service delivery demands of the community. Further meetings had been held between the community and officials from the City of Cape Town.

Billie said people in BT section needed to be relocated to a safe area, because their informal settlement was situated on a flood plain, but “unfortunately” the City had said there was no land available.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member Dan Plato said the City had “no problem” with installing electricity in BT section and had engaged with Eskom to ensure that services were provided.

Plato said at a meeting held with the community yesterday on Wednesday an agreement had been reached for the protests to be stopped.

A team had been sent out on Thursday to clean up the streets and take note of what services were needed for the area, he said. — West Cape News

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