Sep 25, 2010 9:33 PM | By BOBBY JORDAN | TimesLive
Urban warfare erupts in Hout Bay, Zille has to be escorted out as housing crisis boils over on the slopes of the Sentinel
‘They dragged me by my feet – I was treated like a bloody animal. This has traumatised my whole family’ quoteJust two years ago the informal community of Hangberg in Cape Town was hailed a national success story – and adopted as a model for other cities.
But the shack-land project exploded this week into urban warfare reminiscent of apartheid, complete with petrol-bombs, rubber bullets and demolition.
Nearly a week after the first rocks rained down on police sent into the area, nobody is sure what went wrong.
“I don’t know much about the apartheid years but to me this is exactly the same – it is taking us back,” said resident Shanaaz Samaai.
At the heart of the tale of Hangberg is the slow pace of housing delivery. The Hangberg community lives on the slopes of one of Cape Town’s best known mountain peaks, the Sentinel in Hout Bay. In recent years the community has outgrown the few blocks of council flats overlooking Hout Bay harbour.
When residents started building shacks on the mountain side above the flats a few years ago, the city council first objected, but later agreed to include the shacks in a ground-breaking “shack upgrade” plan – as long as no new shacks were built on the mountain side.
The Sunday Times is in possession of the city’s Hangberg development plan which features new housing, an office park, a park and traffic calming measures.
But the project bogged down in red tape and was complicated by leadership tussles within Hangberg’s impoverished community. City spokesman Kylie Hatton said: “There’s an acceptance that these things are not easy to do, but this one unfortunately has dragged on for longer than it should have.”
Because of the delays, many Hangberg residents upgraded their own shacks, and teamed together to create pathways and a park with a jungle gym.
Initially, the city council backed the project and advertised for two consultants to work on a combined shack and new housing layout plan. The Hangberg case study was presented at a national round-table discussion in Johannesburg on informal settlement upgrading, and the home-grown model was adopted in other cities.
But the dream project turned sour last year when a group of private investors put part of the Sentinel mountain on sale, prompting rumours that the housing project would never arrive. Since then several new shacks appeared on a firebreak “buffer zone” between Hangberg and the private land.
Western Cape premier Helen Zille visited the area last week to demand the removal of the new shacks but had to be escorted out of the area. Residents did not like her tone.
Three days later the police moved in to break down shacks built on the firebreak – and the battle for Hangberg began.
Some residents blame Zille for the ensuing chaos, which included injuries, some serious, on both sides. “They dragged me by my feet – I was treated like a bloody animal,” said 52-year-old Fagmieda Samaai, whose daughter Shanaaz was also targeted by police. “This traumatised my whole family,” Samaai said.
Many residents said Zille had declared war on the community by demolishing their shacks before providing new housing.
“(President Jacob) Zuma would never have talked to us that way,” said a resident .
Zille this week said she was simply trying to speed up development: “I’m used to being a scapegoat. It doesn’t bother me,” she told the Sunday Times via e-mail. “Leadership requires tough decisions on matters of principle. I’ve worked in this community for years and I know that most people here want development. They do not want to be held hostage by a minority that wants to block progress.”
The stand-off appears headed for court, where the competing rights of landowners and homeless residents will be weighed.
The Western Cape housing backlog of more than 400000 units is increasing at close to 18000 a year, according to latest estimates.
Policy experts warn that the conflict is symptomatic of growing impatience with a lack of decent housing as millions continue to stream into the country’s major cities. They said apartheid had shown the danger of criminalising communities rather than treating them as development partners.
Said Hangberg community spokesman Greg Louw: “You can’t just move people out of this environment – it is unrealistic.”