20 May 2009, 09:04
Source: Cape Argus
A police officer and a young boy were among several people injured during Tuesday’s violent confrontation between police and Macassar Village backyard dwellers who invaded land adjacent to the N2.
During the incident, four men – including prominent academic Martin Legassick – were taken into custody.
When police bundled Legassick, who the people called their “comrade”, into the back of a police van, the backyard dwellers hurled stones at them, and police opened fire with rubber bullets.
Legassick had been present since early Tuesday and had been photographing the homeless people and the actions taken by the police.
He was standing with a homeless family when a police officer approached and began photographing them.
Another police officer in plainclothes then went to stand next to Legassick and was heard calling the professor “you f***ing twit” before grabbing him by the arms.
Moments later, stones rained down on the police, who opened fire, and people scattered in all directions. The police gave chase after a group of people ran into side streets and managed to escape.
Released about an hour later, Legassick admitted that he had sworn at the plainclothes police officer who had grabbed him.
Police patrols were stepped up on Tuesday night, as Macassar Village was tense after the backyard dwellers marched to the Macassar police station to demand the release of three men arrested during the confrontation.
The three are due to face public violence charges when they appear in the Somerset West Magistrate’s Court on Thursday morning.
Macassar police station commissioner Princess Benjamin said a police officer was injured during the stone-throwing.
“It’s still very tense out there. We called the local councillor to come and address the people, but they’ve left,” Benjamin said.
Macassar Village resident Elmarie Rex said a rubber bullet had struck her four-year-old son Benjee, but he had not been seriously hurt. Another resident, Wandile Mhleli, was hit in the buttocks, backyard dweller Eric Gaji had an open wound on his arm. “They just fired without looking. I tried to get out of the way, but could not do it in time. I just felt a shock to my arm,” Gaji said.
On Monday the backyard dwellers moved on to the land, which had been cleared last week, ostensibly for a community sports event at the weekend. But when city law enforcement officials arrived yesterday morning, a number of shacks had been built on it.
Officials dismantled some of the shacks, but later backyard dwellers rebuilt them. After a lengthy standoff law enforcement officers called for police assistance.
City law enforcement officials gave the backyarders 30 minutes to remove the structures, failing which their materials would be confiscated. An hour after the order was ignored, police and Metro Police accompanied a team of workers who loaded the building materials on to a truck.
As the materials were taken away, backyarders hurled abuse at police.
Angered by the removal of the building materials, a group of young people ran towards the N2 to blockade the freeway, but quick intervention by police prevented the disruption of traffic.
Later, Anti Eviction Campaign leader Mzonke Poni told the backyarders they had a right to their land and they could sue the municipality for damage to their materials.
Community leaders and police later tried to persuade them to spend the night in a community hall. It was not clear late on Tuesday night if they were.
* This article was originally published on page 1 of The Cape Times on May 20, 2009