Grabouw burns in tense standoff
The Western Cape apple-producing hamlet of Grabouw was gripped by violence this week following the demolition of 2 000 shacks along the N2 highway – which was closed by heavily armed police officers for four days. Smoke clouds billowed over the town, and schools and businesses were shut down as a fight erupted over land belonging to the department of public works.
On Friday, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi described the Grabouw protests as an “unfolding crisis”, calling an emergency meeting with provincial and local government over the contested land.
The situation remained tense as Sir Lowry’s Pass was reopened to motorists travelling along the N2 towards the Eastern Cape on Friday morning.
At the time, 300 illegal homes remained on the mountainous land, where they were illegally built a month ago. The newly established community, with residents believed to be from the Eastern Cape, was called Siyanyanzela (We continue steadfastly).
Protests started after anti-land invasion authorities started tearing down shacks with chainsaws and firing tear gas and rubber bullets, as mothers with babies strapped on their backs scattered and sobbed.
On Tuesday morning, Siyanyanzela protesters torched Grabouw’s traffic department – which is situated in the township of Pineview, flanking the contested ground – causing damage estimated at R2 million.
Later that day Andile Lili, leader of the Ses’khona People’s Rights Movement, spoke on behalf of the protesters, saying that they demanded houses with basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation – even though they cannot afford to pay rent.
Speaking to City Press in Pineview on Wednesday, Japhta Fortuin (67), a retired delivery driver, said he had been up since 3am with 300 other community members to guard the local Groenberg Secondary School after protesters threatened to burn it down.
The pensioner, speaking with a long whip curled around his neck, said that two of his grandchildren were enrolled at Groenberg. “Our schools have been shut since Tuesday. Pupils were on their way to school, but were forced to turn around. Nobody can go to work either.
“These ‘invaders’ told us that they would burn down the school. It is the oldest school in Grabouw. What did the school do to them? What did the traffic department do to them? They have been pelting our homes in Pineview with rocks,” he protested.
Fortuin added that Grabouw’s infrastructure was under strain, with a waiting list for housing.
Down the road from Fortuin’s home, heavily armed police officers cordoned off the street leading through Pineview towards the Siyanyanzela settlement. One officer from Paarl said that they had been patrolling since 3am.
On Friday, Nxesi called an emergency meeting with provincial MEC for Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela and the mayor of Theewaterskloof Municipality, Chris Punt.
He appealed for calm and asked that the community refrain from resorting to violence. He said that the three government spheres agreed that the illegal invasion of land could not be condoned: “The appeal to the community is that they cease with their illegal occupation of the property and voluntarily vacate it.”
Nxesi said another meeting would be convened “within the next few days to find a clear long-term solution to the impasse”.
Spokesperson for the department Thami Mchunu said the Western Cape High Court issued an interdict preventing the construction of more structures on the 79hectare property on Friday. Apparently, the land is earmarked for housing and a school.
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INCENDIARY Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to quell violent protests by Grabouw residents