Hlengiwe Mnguni, News24
Cape Town – On September 21, the community of Hangberg on the slopes of the Sentinel mountain in Hout Bay was catapulted into the spotlight when an operation by the City of Cape Town to demolish illegally built homes quickly degenerated into a violent confrontation between the police and residents.
The events of that day are portrayed in The Uprising of Hangberg, a documentary by Aryan Kaganof and Dylan Valley, which they say aims to tell “the other side of the story”.
In an interview with News24, Valley said his interest in the Hangberg saga had been piqued after fellow filmmaker Kaganof – who happened to have lived in the area for some time in the past – told him there was something wrong with the way that the community had been portrayed in the media by the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.
“He said there was something very wrong with the picture. That community is not the way they were portrayed….violent hooligans.
“We needed to tell the other side of the story,” Valley said.
And the story, as told by the residents – sometimes though tears, sometimes through laughter and sometimes through sheer defiance – is a complex one that spans allegations of human rights abuses, service delivery issues, lack of media representation, questions of identity and land ownership, party politics, the divide between the rich and the poor and human dignity.
Valley said although the film, which has been shown in Hangberg and in venues around Cape Town, is still “a work in progress” it is important that it be put in the public domain as soon as possible.
“Media reports don’t show the urgency of the situation. There’s also been misinformation on the part of the City [which] slings mud at them [the Hangberg community] so nobody cares,” Valley told News24.
One point of focus on media “misinformation” involves how the City of Cape Town apparently incorrectly identified a number of people who lost their eyes when hit by rubber bullets during the violent standoff as having provoked the police into retaliation by throwing rocks.
“I was just shocked at the basic human rights violations from police,” said Valley as he recalled accounts made by some residents in the documentary.
Despite all the upheaval on the mountain, Valley said he was heartened by the warmth of the people as he interacted with the community while making the documentary.
“I was impressed by the solidarity…by how people helped each other in the area… the sense of community….at how nice and normal everyone was.
“They don’t want anything else [but land]. They don’t want a house or a job. They don’t want violence. Nobody wants that. People want basic human rights and to live where they want to live,” he said.
Community leader Greg Louw – who also shot some of the footage for the documentary – said he, like a number of other residents present at one screening, was pleased that the truth about Hangeberg had been told.
“The documentary brings out the truth about what exactly happened here. We are hoping the documentary will bring out the truth about non-delivery,” he told News24, adding that the police’s actions on September 21 were “uncalled for and inhuman”.
But the view of what is wrong in Hangberg as captured in the documentary could not be more different from that still held by the City of Cape Town and Zille, who also features on clips of news interviews and on footage of the community meeting that broke down a few days before the violent confrontation.
Instead of a community standing in solidarity against the demolition of their neighbours’ homes, the City and Zille see a community in the grip of “a rise of a criminal settlement” which unsavoury elements want to turn into a “police no go zone”, according to City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
Asked whether he had seen the documentary, Smith said he had not, but that a colleague had.
“It sounds painfully like a pre-election roadshow,” he told News24, accusing Louw of heading an anti-DA operation in the area.
“I doubt that it’s a sincere attempt at telling the story,” he said calling the documentary one-sided with a jaundiced slant.
Asked about the revelations made in the documentary that some of those who had been identified as having thrown rocks before they were shot at by police were wrongly identified, Smith said there had been no sinister motives on the City’s part.
“When the photographs were brought in, we did so in good faith,” he said adding that it was pure error on their part.
Sixty-two people were arrested on September 21 while an unconfirmed number of residents and 15 metro police officers were injured.
On October 11, the sheriff of the court handed out notices to certain Hangberg residents informing them about a high court application by the City of Cape Town to evict them from the Sentinel.
The matter has been postponed to November 29 to give the parties a chance to find a solution out of court.
According to the notices, 54 structures have been erected illegally on a firebreak and on a nature reserve and will have to be demolished as they pose a fire risk.