The owner of a creche Hangberg residents torched in apparent retaliation for the City’s removal of illegal half-built shacks in the area says she fears for her life.
The Little Angels Day Care in Hangberg, which doubles as a soup kitchen, was burnt down on Friday June 19. Several donations including hundreds of food packs, blankets, second-hand clothing and shoes, were all lost in the blaze.
Last week, the City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit tore down two half-built shacks on City-owned land, sparking clashes between locals and the police.
There was more violence on Friday after the unit, accompanied by Metro Police, tore down another illegally built shack just off Karbonkel Road, and it was during this clash between Metro Police and residents that the creche was torched and an electricity depot damaged and looted.
The founder and principal of the creche, Liezel Matthews, said she now feared for her life and the safety of her family.
Residents had accused her of tipping off the authorities about the illegally built shacks, she said.
“I never told them to come throw down these structures. Yes, I did complain in the past, but I never ever told them to come and throw it down on that day, and I had no idea that they would come on that day,” she said. “Most of my family has been left traumatised by this. I now have to listen to people threatening to burn down my house and the houses of my family.”
Ms Matthews has opened a case of arson and had reported the threats to the police. Hout Bay police station commander Lieutenant Colonel Khuthala Masakala confirmed they were investigating an arson case.
“We encourage the public to come forward with any information,” she said.
Ward councillor Roberto Quintas said Ms Matthews was not the only Hangberg resident who had complained about illegal building in the past. Some 30 residents had done so as had organisations that had helped the community.
They were unhappy, he said, that the illegal building encroached on a local park and refuse-collection point, while being built on top of utilities infrastructure.
Sherezaan Young, of Hangberg, said it was a sad sight to see locals celebrating burning down a school.
“I was watching people throwing stones at the creche, laughing and celebrating it as if they have achieved something great. I have heard the stories as to why it was done, but, truth be told, this is taking it a step too far, because now we are messing with our kids’ futures.’
Another resident, Wilbur Theunissen, also wasn’t happy about the burning of the creche and called the attack on the electricity depot “ridiculous”.
“The people are frustrated and angry, but how is stealing from something that is supposed to uplift us, something that is supposed to help us and our community, how will this help us?
“Sometimes people really need to stop and think of how they are affecting the broader community.”
Peace and Mediation Forum chairperson Jan Lewis said there was no justification for burning the creche.
“There are ways and means to deal with situations like this. The PMF will assist Liezl Mathews to rebuild her creche again. The issue with structures that have been declared illegal must first be sorted out with the City and those that have an issue with this lawlessness.”
Mayor Dan Plato said the City would help the creche soup kitchen get back on its feet “as soon as possible” with temporary shelter, gas burners, a four plate stove, 100-litre pots and dry ingredients”The good Samaritans who ran the crèche and soup kitchen can no longer provide these services as their ingredients and equipment were burned to the ground in apparent ‘retaliation’ for the repeated removal of an illegal, partially built and unoccupied structure on land that has been earmarked for community services,” he said.
Mr Plato said he would call a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa about the conduct of ANC leaders in Hangberg. He said he had viewed photos of the leaders standing near a road barricade stopping fire services from reaching the creche and they were “smiling and seemingly celebrating the destruction of this important community service”.
He added: “I will be raising the actions of the local ANC leaders with President Cyril Ramaphosa so that his party can investigate the actions of his members who appear to take joy at the expense of others misery.”
Roscoe Jacobs, the deputy chairman of the ANC’s Hout Bay branch, said Mr Plato’s comment about the ANC leaders was “cheap politicking and a diversion so that we lose sight of the travesty of justice and gross human rights violations”.
He said while he did not condone the burning of the creche he also did not condone the way the City had torn down the half-built shacks as he felt it had been breach of the Peace Accord.
In almost the same breath, however, Mr Jacobs questioned whether the creche should be allowed to stand.
“There was a statement released which spoke about complaints about those who have occupied that land and by the creche owner as well,” he said.