The looting of the Bay Harbour Market this week blunted the message people were trying to send about injustice and economic hardship in Hangberg.
So say younger members of the harbour community who have supported the protests around Deurick van Blerk, the local fisher who disappeared at sea after allegedly being shot by an anti-poaching unit at the weekend.
On Monday night, August 13, a stand-off between demonstrators and riot police boiled over.
A breakaway group then started looting and vandalising the market, one of Hout Bay’s most popular tourist attractions. An ATM was also damaged.
Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said some Hangberg residents helped the police recover stolen items.
“Police arrested a total of 11 people between the ages of 15 and 45, including five juveniles who were later released to their parents,” Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said.
Bay Harbour Market spokesperson Carly Stovell said there had been extensive damage and loss to property.
“Many of our traders have their whole livelihood wrapped up in their space at the market. Some traders lost everything, from their stock to their actual infrastructure being completely destroyed.
“Others lost critical tools that they need for their craft – tools that take years to acquire and in many cases pay for,” she said.
“Biggest hit was our jewellery and fashion traders. Some traders had their stock completely soiled – destroyed to a degree whereby it can’t even be salvaged. When something like this happens at a market, it doesn’t affect one business, it has dire consequences for 100-plus businesses and their families. It truly is heartbreaking.”
She said the market employed more than 150 staff from Hangberg and more than 65 from Imizamo Yethu.
“But it’s not just the staff we employ. These employees are the main breadwinners for their families, some supporting between five and 11 dependents. This is more than 215 families who will have no income because of the minority of criminals within the community.”
However, Ms Stovell also praised those residents who had assisted in the wake of the looting.
“There were heroes who risked their own lives. We received word of a group of individuals – men, women and children – who were running around in the middle of the night in their pyjamas retrieving stolen items and returning it to the market the very same night.
“While they retrieved many items, the losses are still substantial. But their actions are true testament to what the market means to the local community and the goodwill we have built over the last seven years. We will always be very grateful to these community heroes.”
She said they hoped to reopen the market as soon as possible.
“Many of our traders can’t afford not to be earning. We would like to thank the local Hout Bay residents for all their support, and we will need Cape Town’s support moving forward after such a harrowing ordeal for so many.”
Fidel Meter, a prominent youth leader in Hangberg, was incensed that a criminal element had used the protests for their own gain.
“These protests were about social justice and addressing the poverty fishers have to face daily. You have people in government who’ve never even seen the ocean, yet they are the ones allocating fishing quotas. The fishing rights should go to the people who live from the ocean,” Mr Meter said, adding that his own grandfather had died at sea.
“But then you had people looting a place that provides employment to our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, brothers and sisters. We cannot support this.”
He said those who attacked the market were known criminals who were also well-known to the police.
“It’s the same people who did this. The problem is we can’t go to the cops, because some of them work with these criminals. It’s the same with every protest, no matter what it’s about. These criminals piggyback on the legitimate protest, which then f*cks it up. Protest against the government, but not innocent people and businesses.”
Mr Meter grew up only a few houses down from Mr Van Blerk.
“I know his family very well. Deurick was such a decent guy. It’s always the good ones who die young.”
Another youth leader, Peter Michaels, also slammed the group who looted the market.
“It was a group of youngsters who are being influenced by older guys, and it’s not acceptable,” he said.
“This protest was important because it wasn’t just about the fishers’ circumstances, but also focused on police brutality. At the moment, the youngsters in our community fear the police, because of incidents like this with Deurick. They never handle situations well.”
He said instead of adopting a heavy-handed approach, police needed to get more involved with community events.
“The new generation loves sport and music, and we have these events here in Hangberg. We would like to see the police supporting such events, not just coming in when there’s trouble. That would take away a lot of fear and anger people have for the police.”