Solidarity: We “invaded” Rondebosch Common…but only the police destroyed the fynbos.

Statement by those who occupied the common
Take Back the Commons Movement
28 January 2012

We did our best. We had everything stacked against us.

The might of the South African Police Force, the paranoia of some Rondebosch rate payers, and the arrogance of our protester turned mayor Patricia de Lille.

Legal march and gathering

As a former activist, de Lille should know the law with regards to gatherings. She should already know that she can’t ban a protest without meeting with us first and without credible threats of violence that could not be assuaged through the meeting. This was an illegal act and a violation of our Constitutional rights and the specific procedure that the City is required to follow according to the Gatherings Act.

It was also clearly illegal that they stopped and threatened people who protested in small groups, given that only groups of 15 or more constitute a legal gathering.

Today’s events

The police came for us in Manenberg, in Bishop Lavis, in Kraaifontein, and in Athlone. They came for us in groups of 50, in groups of 20, ten, five and even two. They penned us inside our townships saying we were not welcome in the leafy suburbs. They arrested two of us in Manenberg. Our buses got rerouted back home.

There were police stationed all over Cape Town: in Kraaifontein, all along Klipfontein Rd, in Little Mowbray, and even in Wynberg. There were Caspirs, SAPS, Water Cannons, Law Enforcement, Anti-Land Invasions units, Metro Police and an unknown number of undercover police.

Though thousands of us attempted to march, only a few hundred made it to the Common. Yet this was a huge victory for us. We walked from as far as Bishops Lavis and Mitchell’s Plain to get there. (20+ kilometres!)

And when we arrived and sat peacefully protesting at the entrance to the Common, the police attacked us, manhandled us, and violently arrested us.

As Khayelitsha’s Pastor Xola Skosana said from the march: “I have escaped imprisonment by the skin of my teeth, saved by the clerical shirt and the religious look, I guess. They sprayed some blue substance on our clothes, tempted to say that’s DA Blood. Most of our people were manhandled and thrown into police vans. I have never seen so many police. Now I know you don’t mess with stolen white property, DA and ANC police will crush you! Watch the news, the writing is on the wall. I salute the mothers and young girls from Mitchell’s Plein who looked the men in blue and dared them to arrest them. Everything was blue, it’s truly DA land”.

Using armoured vehicles and police in riot gear, they herded people together in order to arrest them.

In all 40 of us were taken on the Common, and taken from police station to police station until they were finally charged with “public violence” after being pepper sprayed and charged with ‘public violence’.

But then more of us came on to the Common, in groups of two, five and ten. We caught the police by surprise. Eventually they gave in to 70 of us, letting us occupy, until they finally evicted us at 7pm.

14 men and 26 women were held at Mowbray Police Station, and finally released after human rights lawyers were called in. The last were released at approximately 1:30am after more than 7 hours in the cells.

Police violence

Just a few examples of pervasive police brutality yesterday:

  • A young lady filming was smacked while she was being taken into custody (caught on video)
  • An older man got pepper sprayed while he was already in the back of a police van
  • Police assault at least three young ladies before arresting them (caught on video)
  • Police did not wear their name tags so that they could not be identified. However some of us were still able to lay charges thanks to the assistance of some other supportive police officers
  • The city’s Anti-Land Invasions unit was particularly brutal towards us

The Caspirs destroyed the Common

Despite unfounded fears by Friends of the Rondebosch Common that we would take over and destroy the fragile ecosystem in the area, we did nothing to hurt the fynbos and other plants. As we promised, we treated the ecosystem with respect.

Instead, as this video footage shows, SAPS Caspirs were roaming around the Common destroying everything in their path. So much for the police being deployed to protect it!

What we achieved

  • We reached the Rondebosch Common against all odds.
  • We exposed the fact that the DA led government is just as violent and authoritarian as their ANC counterparts.
  • We were inclusive, racially diverse, and showed hundreds of naysayers that we are peaceful, caring and proud people.
  • We began a city-wide conversation about inequality, segregation, and democracy.

What we still lack

  • We need to educate one another about our struggles and how they are interlinked.
  • We need to expose those who are profiting and becoming famous out of the struggles of the poor or to push their political agendas.
  • We need to be better organised

Our principles as a movement

  • Political parties and organisations affiliated with political parties are not welcome in our struggle.
  • We are inclusive. All are welcome in our struggle as individuals and communities. But participants must leave their party affiliations and t-shirts at home
  • We direct our own struggle. No sympathetic organisation is permitted to come and tell us what we are fighting for and how our struggle should be waged – COSATU included.

Way Forward

Those of us who were on the Rondebosch Common at 6pm engaged in a great discussion. We came up with the above achievements, failings and principles. We have resolved to move forward today. We were also, with the help of some dedicated lawyers, able to secure the release of 41 of the people arrested. The police are still refusing to release one protester however, possibly because Patricia de Lille has been gunning for him.

All 42 have been charged with public violence and 41 will appear in Wynberg Magistrates Court on Monday the 30th of January at 9am.

The planned summit will go ahead, albeit with smaller numbers and a different venue, and we will also be discussing our next plan of action. We will not take this treatment lying down!

We are all leaders! Forward to the struggle for land, housing, jobs and most of all dignity!

For more information, please contact:

  • Mike Hoffmeester @ 0797956121 or mhoffmeester@yahoo.com
  • Yushra Adams @ 0834041279
  • Melvin de Wee @ 0765674918
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