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Unrest calls for action

Around 140 residents of Highbury and surrounds showed up for an outdoor meeting on Sunday afternoon following the unrest and chaos that erupted around Nooiensfontein Road on Saturday 25 July.

Last week several reports of land invasion and plots being marked out on open ground close to the R300 and Stellenbosch Arterial, and in the vicinity of Bet-El School were reported on social media.

Edmund du Plooy from the local ratepayers’ association (Hirra), who sent out the call for Sunday’s meeting, said no one really knows what the reason for the protest was. He found it strange “that as soon as the OK Liquor store was raided it was all over’’.

Residents feared for their property and their lives with the situation that developed on Saturday with protestors burning tyres, destroying robots and looting. Some said they felt like they were held ransom by the rioters as access roads were blocked off.

Residents are also concerned about a general increase in crime – cars being broken into, cable theft, people being attacked along the canal, robberies and drug and alcohol sales. One resident pointed out that most of the land grabbing and robberies take place during the lockdown curfew, from 09:00 until 04:00.

The response or lack thereof, from police, metro police and law enforcement came under question.

They were accused of only going after soft targets. A comparison was made with how ‘‘the peaceful picketing by the hospitality industry” at parliament last week was dispersed by force with water cannons.

Charles Losper, who lives next to Nooiensfontein Road, had a look over the wall from his backyard when he heard the noise on Saturday. He saw people shouting and putting tyres on the road which were then set alight. He recorded video on his phone and said three men ran past shouting threats at the residents: “Your houses are next – you with the phones…”

“I understand the cops can’t be everywhere at the same time, but what puzzled me, there were close to 50 cars right behind my house in Nooiensfontein, lots of blue and red lights – metro police, law enforcement and police. They stopped, everyone got out of their cars and they were talking to one another instead of addressing the problem they came for, which was the riots.”

Losper said there were also officers in combat gear, “with masks and shields, trained in combating public violence”, but they “only moved into the area opposite us by the church and they patrolled along the canal there”.

Losper said residents pointed out to the officers where the liquor was lying on this side of the road after the bottle store was looted.

“These guys ran across the field and they dropped some of the liquor when they heard the cops coming.” Losper claims many of the looters “were not even grown-ups that need a house,” but children around 12 to 14 years old.

Ward 19 councillor, Ibrahim Sawant, urged the community to help find a solution and better communication to address safety concerns such as illegal land invasion. He said it’s time for communities to take their lives into their own hands “as government or businesses can’t do it’’.

Sawant suggested the formation of a community-based team (CBT) whereby people can be mobilised more efficiently when interventions are needed, and to act as “one voice” to take matters further.

He said a recent court case that ruled against the City, favours people that grab land illegally.

“Once a structure is up, even if it’s on the pavement, law enforcement can’t remove it.

“Never mind 10 or 100 plots, I’m talking one or two people that have put up a structure that became their home overnight. They cannot be removed without a court order.”

Sawant said housing is a huge issue, but some of the actions are clearly politically motivated.

He agreed the police are not always coming to the party.

“If the police at national level are not responding to the request for more resources into the Western Cape, what do we do?” Sawant said everyone must play a part and strength lies in coordination.

A resident remarked metro police were also not doing their job. Saturday’s unrest opened his eyes “to see how easy it is to access a residential area. They (the invaders) also saw it, because look how late the police responded. They could do it so quickly in the blink of an eye. What is stopping them from doing it again and again?” 

Sawant said the established structures within the community must work together to form a CBT and he will then request a meeting with police and law enforcement. 

Emlyn Whitman, a neighbourhood watch patroller represented on the police subforum, explained the role of the community police forum (CPF) in keeping the police accountable. He urged residents to get more involved within the CPF and neighbourhood watches (NHW). “Together we are strong, but there are only 32 members in a NHW that covers from Stellendale all the way to De Kuilen – only 32 and not all patrollers. Then we have people complaining where is the NHW?” 

He said with the reality of one police officer for 600 people, people cannot expect the police to protect them even though it is their duty. “No matter how much we complain, it’s not going to increase the number of police – we need to protect our neighbours.”

Whitman volunteered to help with setting up a WhatsApp group for the community as a first step to establishing a CBT.

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