Media: Hangberg caught in a crossfire of law enforcement and lack of planning

Monday October 4th 2010 – WestCapeNews

Lying on his bed in a two-roomed shack shared by his parents and his sister, Delon Egypt is recovering from eye surgery he received last week at Groote Schuur hospital.Egypt is one of four members of Hout Bay’s Hangberg community who lost an eye due to rubber bullets being fired at them by police during violent clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday last week when the City of Cape Town demolished shacks erected in a firebreak on Hout Bay’s Sentinel Hill – land owned by the South African National Parks.
Another man was badly injured by a rubber bullet that hit him in the groin.

Despite the surgery, Egypt still has the rubber bullet lodged in his skull. As a result he experienced his first fit and fears there will be more. He is not sure what further medical surgery will be required.

Quietly, he tells his version of what happened on the day he lost his left eye.

Waking up on Tuesday September 21, he walked down the hill to buy cigarettes and bread for his family.

He said he saw tyres burning and police Casspirs crawling up the hill from the harbour.

And then all hell broke loose.

“Police just took their guns out and shot at people. People were not throwing stones. It was only after police shot that people stated throwing rocks.

“I turned around and all I heard was a big bang in my head.” With blood gushing from his eye, he started vomiting.

He said soon thereafter he and his father were violently assaulted and forced into a Casspir by police and taken to the Hout Bay police station. They were detained there for three hours and only given a bandage for his wound.

When other detained residents requested that police assist him, “all they said was : ‘F*k, laat hom daar le’.”

“I can’t describe the feeling that I have,” said Egypt.

His, and other residents’ version of events is being disputed by City mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, who produced photographic evidence that those injured by rubber bullets were attacking law enforcement officials.

Hout Bay police station communications officer Tanya Lesch said there was photographic evidence showing Egypt was taken to a police Casspir by his father to receive medical attention.

Additionally, she said, when she was alerted to his condition when he was detained she called paramedics who told her he had been treated.

Lesch said she also arranged for an ambulance to come.

However, Egypt personal situation reveals why access to land and housing is such a volatile issue for the Hangberg community.

At 22-years-old and unemployed, home is a two-roomed wooden shack shared with his older sister and his parents.

Like hundreds of other young men in the community, he needs independence and a place of his own.

But with no access to formal housing, they have little option but to illegally encroach on vacant land.

Development Action Group Programme Director Ardiel Soeker and Chief Executive Officer Kailash Bhana state that Hangberg was established above the Hout Bay harbour in the 1940’s when state housing was provided to house harbour workers.

It has not been subject to inward migration but the population has grown naturally over the intervening 70 years.

While residents have been allowed to erect their own homes behind the council flats, it wasn’t “an ad-hoc solution applied by the local authority to a growing problem in Hangberg”.

No permanent, long term planning has been applied to the area and the community has had a hard time.

Overlooked by an ANC government who did not see the ‘coloured’ community as part of their voting constituency, the community, many of them reliant on the fishing industry, had to absorb the indignity of a fishing quota system that resulted in job losses and inter-community competition for what was left after big fishing companies were handed the lion’s share.

Now, expanding organically up the slopes of the hill upon which they live, they have come under fire, literally, from the DA-run city.

“This is our land. Our forefathers stayed here. They already took our land before. Where are we supposed to go?” said 32 year old Joanne Hendricks who shares a shack with her partner and their five children in the firebreak. Should the city get the eviction order requested from the Cape High Court, the Hendricks family will see their home torn down.

And residents say last week’s police brutality was outrageous, and have requested a commission of enquiry into police conduct.

“This police brutality is unacceptable,” said religious leader Father Godfrey Walton who helped to organize a peaceful rally for today (Sunday Oct 3) when residents will march to the Hout Bay police station to hand over a memorandum.

Walton, relayed the story of a 14 year old boy who was allegedly assaulted and detained in a Casspir last week.

“The policeman had his firearm pointed at the boy’s private parts. ‘I can kill you and dump your body in Langa. Thank god your mother is here, otherwise you would have been half way through the tunnel,’ This is what a policeman told the boy,” he said.

As it is, Hangberg is in a decrepit state. Many of the shacks do not have toilets and residents have to resort to either the few City-provided toilets, (many of which have become blocked) or the bucket system.

This government strategy “whether a result of lack of planning or a deliberate strategy to prevent poor people’s access to good land for housing, is the trigger for many informal settlement and backyard dwellers struggles, as in Hangberg,” wrote Soeker and Bhana.

Although the City has plans approved in 2008 to upgrade Hangberg, and has acquired one hectare of land adjacent to Hangberg at a cost of R8million where they intend to build high density low-income housing, residents say it’s happening too slowly.

“All these years we have been promised houses but nothing is happening,” said one resident who asked not to be named.

The City claims that the erection of informal structures has hampered the upgrading process. According to the City an agreement was struck between the community and then mayor Helen Zille that in order for upgrading to take place, no more informal structures would be erected.

But most residents say there was no agreement, and despite their desperate circumstances, few are willing to leave Hangberg.

“I will never leave this place,” affirmed a 61-year-old woman who has three adult children living in Hangberg.

Residents opposition to city law-enforcement efforts is also due to the perception that the local government has its eye on the land. They fear that once upgrading takes place, they will be kicked out and dumped in far-off settlements like Blikkiesdorp and Delft on the Cape Flats.

“They just want our votes and this million dollar view,” said Egypt, referring to the spectacular view which residents have of the harbor and the sea. – Fadela Slamdien, West Cape News

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One Response to Media: Hangberg caught in a crossfire of law enforcement and lack of planning

  1. Pingback: Solidaritet med Hangbergs indbyggere! Demo I Hout Bay 3. Oktober | Cogwheels behind the apparant

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