Bitter gray areas in Hangberg clash

30 Sep 2010 | Anna Majavu – Political Notebook | Sowetan

A SCENIC mountainside in Cape Town has been filled with scenes of ugly violence as police attempted to carry out a wave of evictions against shackdwellers living there.

When dozens of residents of Hangberg in Hout Bay clashed with the police they were shot at with rubber bullets and dragged across rocky ground by their feet.

Three of the residents will have glass eyes fitted this week after each had an eyeball shot by police.

The aim of the police action was to demolish shacks that had allegedly been built on a firebreak.

In an interview on on-line television station Zoopy TV Western Cape Premier Helen Zille denied any wrongdoing.

“We have been working very hard to upgrade the informal settlement,” she said. “We spent R8million on new land and the community knew about that.

“They have never been able to elect a representative committee, as unfortunately that committee is so divided and they have certainly not kept to their agreement that they would not expand into the firebreak or nature reserve.

“There were about 307 (shacks) on the site, which we agreed to upgrade, but numbers much more than doubled and encroached on the nature reserve,” Zille said.

In the same video three burly police are seen escorting someone who does not appear to be putting up a struggle to the police van. For effect, the cops give him a few kicks as he is getting into the van.

While numerous people at Hangberg had explained in the media why they would rather remain in their homes than be evicted, Zille opted to “spin it” – blaming druglords for abusing the community.

“It is violence from a small group primarily known as the Rastas. They are both drug users and often I’m afraid, drug peddlers – and the druglords in that community have really subjugated the community, who live in fear of power abuse and this violence is just an extension of that power abuse,” Zille told Zoopy TV.

One of the community leaders, Fred Martin, said Zille had merely invented the statement that the community was controlled by druglords.

In any case, since Zille’s government controls the police, is there any reason why druglords should roam free, manipulating communities?

Another leader, Greg Louw, said it suited Zille to pretend Hangberg residents had no leaders or direction.

“They are also lying bluntly when they say we grabbed land and put up structures overnight in a so-called firebreak. If nobody maintains a firebreak and it is overgrown, is it still a firebreak?” Louw asked.

“They have failed us big time. Under apartheid the NP failed us, then the new ANC administration failed us and now the DA has failed us. All we are saying is take us seriously and provide services in this area,” Louw said.

Rhodes University academic Richard Pithouse said politicians find it convenient to claim uprisings are conspiracies against them.

“Helen Zille, just like many of the ANC politicians, seems unable to understand that popular rejection of her policies is perfectly legitimate and not some sort of conspiracy. Until politicians understand that shack settlements are communities that need to be supported by the state, the tension between shack dwellers and the state will continue to escalate,” Pithouse told Sowetan.

He feels the government is deliberately ignoring the possibility of development and is instead relying on “state violence” to solve their problems.

“(Former minister of housing Lindiwe) Sisulu’s attempt to use state violence to eradicate shack settlements was defeated, but current Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale has failed to develop a new set of policies to support shack dwellers to entrench their right to the cities and decent housing.

“There’s been a lot of spin from his office, but no real substance.”

A key gripe of shack dwellers in Cape Town is that when their shacks are torn down they face being dumped 28km from the city centre in a transit camp known as Blikkiesdorp or Tin Can Town.

Some families have been living in temporary one-room tin shacks in Blikkiesdorp for five years now. With communal taps, no bathrooms or showers but many unhygienic blocked toilets, other communities are keen to escape the same fate.

“Temporary Relocation Areas or transit camps are an unacceptable response to the housing crisis, that simply moves people from their own shacks to government shacks with the latter often being much smaller” Pithouse believes.

Human Sciences Research Council researcher Mcebisi Ndletyana said: “transit camps do not help as it is intrinsic to human settlement that people have to be located close to work”.

“Relocating people far from the city only perpetuates the old apartheid planning concept, which was to keep natives as far away from the white folks as possible”.

Ndletyana explained that the poor and the shack dwellers would have to hold on a bit longer.

“Part of the solution is to develop rural areas in such a way that people are able to make a livelihood there, to curb the necessity of their moving to urban areas” he said.

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