Hangberg protesters want to pull the plug on a new electricity depot, saying the site could be better used for affordable housing.
Protesters blocked the entrance to the Harbour Road construction site on Tuesday September 17, and according to ward councillor Rob Quintas, they torched a car and looted a storage container of power tools and other gear, at the building site, although this could not be confirmed with police by the time of going to print.
“This is a criminal act, and although I, as a ward councillor, support the constitutional right for people to protest peacefully, I cannot in any way condone criminal behaviour including arson, looting, damage to property and restriction of movement caused to the public,” Mr Quintas said.
The flare-up started on Friday September 13, when mayor Dan Plato met with Hangberg residents to discuss planned high-court sanctioned evictions from council homes there.
According to Mr Quintas, the mayor assured residents the evictions would not be carried out, at least not until there had been further discussions with community leaders.
“The alleged reasons behind this display of wanton public destruction is negated by the fact these same protest leaders were assured by the mayor that no evictions would take place,” Mr Quintas said.
Community activist Lee Smith, who was at the forefront of the protest, claimed in a social media video post that a resident had already been served with an eviction notice telling her that her house would be demolished.
“We were all in that meeting, and we were supposed to discuss a way forward. The mayor made it clear that no action would be taken just yet, so when the resident received this eviction notice, it sparked anger within the community,” Mr Smith said.
“We decided to come down and have a peaceful protest.”
Protesters asked to meet with the mayor and Mr Quintas, but the councillor said the mayor had decided that the City “will not meet with violent and criminal protesters who, by and large, do not represent the majority of the law-abiding residents of Hangberg who, like many other South Africans, are tired of seeing violent conflict on our streets”.
The City would only meet with Hangberg community leaders once peace had been restored, Mr Quintas said.
Tempers had already started to boil when it emerged that the electricity depot would be built on a site originally planned for housing(“Electricity depot debate,” Sentinel, September 6), despite assurances from the City that it would develop two new housing projects for Hangberg.
Hout Bay Civic Association secretary, Roscoe Jacobs, said several residents felt the mayor had reneged on promises he had made to hold off on the evictions.
“The mayor said that a high court order was granted for officials to come into the Hangberg but not for evictions to take place. We only called for an official to update us on this matter,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Hangberg clinic has closed due to the protests. Mr Quintas said: “The cost of this protest in terms of damages to public infrastructure and for those unable to get to work due to limited transport or fear is likewise unknown at this stage.”
Work at the electricity depot site is also on hold until peace is restored.