Media: ‘Millions for stadiums, but no houses’

23 05 2009

Arrests made as violent protests erupt over dismantling of newly-erected shacks

May 20, 2009 Edition 1
Francis Hweshe
Source: Cape Argus

MACASSAR Village housing protesters burnt tyres and stoned the police, who then fired on them with rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, arresting four people, including a University of the Western Cape professor, for public violence.

The informal residents had illegally cleared a piece of land alongside the N2 owned by the City of Cape Town and erected structures vowing not to move from the area.

The protest turned ugly yesterday, resulting in the arrest, and subsequent release of Professor Martin Legassick, along with three other men.

Furious backyard dwellers said they were fed up with the government’s promises of housing, and were tired of paying “exorbitant” rentals.
Police spokeswoman Captain Bernadine Steyn said two officers were injured from stones thrown at them by the protesters when they clashed over the efforts to shut the N2 to traffic.

The protesters later marched to the local police station to demand the release of their colleagues. They were expected to march to the Somerset West police station today.

After his release, Legassick said he had not been arrested, but rather “taken in” briefly after an altercation with the Crime Intelligence Unit, which had “taken a picture of me because I’m white”.

“People here are desperate for houses. They say they would rather die than move away,” Legassick said.

The backyard dwellers, who are part of the housing lobby group Abahlali abaseMjondolo, last week cleared the land and downplayed the invasion by saying it would be used for “games for backyard dwellers during weekends”.

But on Monday night they moved on to the land, erecting several shacks which were subsequently demolished yesterday morning by the city’s anti-land invasion unit.

When the Cape Argus arrived there mid-morning yesterday, building materials, mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils and clothing were scattered about.

The protesters insisted they would not leave.

By afternoon the defiant group had started rebuilding. The structures were demolished again and this time authorities confiscated the building materials.

Angered by the authorities’ intervention, the protesters twice tried to block the N2 and burn tyres, but a huge contingent of armed police prevented them from doing so.

Singing and dancing in protest, the residents promised “to keep the police on their toes 24/7” with protest action.

“We have no place to stay. The government has millions to spend on building stadiums for 2010, but I have been waiting for a house for the past 20 years,” said mother-of-three Clarissa Benjamin, 47.

Steve Hayward, head of the anti-land invasion unit, confirmed that his department had taken down the structures and confiscated the building materials.

He added that they would continue to do so until the protesters stopped their operation.

The city had laid a charge of trespassing against the protesters at the local police station, he said.

The authorities would also consider applying for a court interdict against them, according to Hayward.

He urged the protesters to stop their action and engage with their local councillor to resolve the matter.

He noted that the land was intended for the development of housing in the next two years.

Mzonke Poni, a spokesman for the protesters, said the city had shown its arrogance by confiscating the building materials and evicting the group from the land.

He alleged that law enforcement officers had broken possessions and said charges would be laid against them.

The group would apply for legal aid today to seek a court interdict against the evictions.

“For us to win this battle, we need support. We need to claim this land. The strength of our struggle is based on numbers,” Poni told the agitated group, to loud applause and cheers.

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