Mixed emotion over demolition

The demolition of two illegally built shacks in Hangberg last week resulted in a clash between residents and police, who exchanged stones and rubber bullets.

The demolition of two unoccupied structures in Hangberg as storms lashed Cape Town, has raised a few eyebrows among locals, all asking the same questions… Why during lockdown?

On Thursday June 11, the City of Cape Town sent their Anti-Land Invasion Unit, accompanied by police and other law enforcement agencies, to demolish two half-built structures, claiming to be curbing down on illegal land invasions within Hangberg.

On one of the coldest days of the year, in the pouring rain, a clash then followed, with rubber bullets and stones being exchanged by police and a handful of residents.

Sentinel News has since confirmed that both structures had indeed been vacant after reports were rife that the City had evicted families from the structures.

But it was not so much the demolition that bothered locals. It was the fact that this operation had been given the go-ahead during lockdown.

Justin Vaardien who watched “the madness” from his Hangberg home, said the situation had been dealt with “incorrectly”.

“Our community leaders were not aware of anything and the community did not know this was happening. I was watching this madness from my house, watching these guys throwing armed police officers with stones,” he said.

“I understand why people get uptight when such things occur, but surely there was a better way to do this.”

He added that there was very little time for anybody in Hangberg to react, and that the operation had caught everybody by surprise.

“We thought it was part of the lockdown crew coming to chase everybody into their homes or maybe the president decided to visit. Instead they came to throw down ‘hokkies’, got everybody out of their houses to stand on the corners and watch this,” Mr Vaardien said.

Another resident was shocked at the lack of communication from the City and the level of force which had been used.

Estelle Vredenburg said if children wanted to see how locals had to fight with police during apartheid, they got an “exclusive preview” last week.

“There were even kids throwing stones from the hills, cheering others on. It was not the reaction we were asking for. Yes, we want to curb the amount of people illegally occupying land, but the City must know this is a very sensitive issue and needs to be handled that way,” Ms Vredenburg said.

The news of the operation went viral, with many under the impression that the City had put families out on the street during the storm – and lockdown.

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas described these reports as “disingenuous and misleading”, reiterating that the two structures which had been demolished had been “uninhabited”, had no roof, no walls and had no personal belongings inside.

“Our teams were met with violence whilst upholding the rule of law, and acting on requests from the very community of Hangberg,” Mr Quintas said.

He added that the violence had forced the City’s service teams which had been providing tarpaulins and sandbags, and doing housing maintenance, out of the area.

“We are now a day behind in the delivery and maintenance of much needed relief and services,” Mr Quintas said.

The Peace and Mediation Forum’s chairperson, Jan Lewis, said most residents were starting to understand the reasons behind last week’s operation.

He said he had known about the structures being built on the dunes, and had warned locals about building there.

According to Mr Lewis, permission can be granted to locals to put up structures only once they have followed an application process and the application went through the correct community and City channels.

“They came to me to sign their application forms. I told them that the space where they wanted to put up a structure is a problematic space and it is in a lease process. I also asked them is there no other space that they want to identity to put up their structures. However, they insisted and proceeded to erect their structures on that sand dune,” Mr Lewis said, adding that the family had applied, but received no feedback from the City.

“These residents that occupied the structures must be given alternative space and must get the necessary help and services. That is what I think will be the way forward.” Community activist Roscoe Jacobs called the community to a meeting on Sunday June 14 to discuss last week’s operation. “ We believe the narrative of whether the structures were occupied or not is irrelevant as the action led by the City was illegal as it violated a standing High Court Order grant by the Western Cape High Court,” he said.

According to Mr Jacobs, this court order is also know as the Hangberg Peace Accord and it outlines how to deal with illegal structures.

“We strongly condemn the heartless actions of the City of Cape Town (which) was a violation of our Human Rights, a middle finger to the rule of law and the Western Cape High Court,” Mr Jacobs said.

They now plan to add last week’s events to their case, as residents are currently taking the City to court over violations of the accord, with the matter set to come before the High Court next month.

“We have decided to strengthen our matter before the court against the City by including Thursday’s incident in the current matter as it too is a contravention of the High Court Order know as the Hangberg Peace Accord,” Mr Jacobs said.