Masi residents deserve hard-won place in the sun
I AM RESPONDING to Josette Cole’s excellent article, “Revolt a symptom of historical pain” (Weekend Argus, August 8), to add some more historical context.
When I started my campaign as candidate MP for the old Democratic Party for the elections in June 1989 in Simon’s Town, one of the first issues I was confronted with was the plight of the “squatters” on the wetlands near the refuse dump on the road to Chapman’s Peak. When I visited them the first time, I was appalled by their living conditions. I also learnt about the evictions from Dassenberg Farm to Site C in 1987 and their return to the area in 1989.
I took this matter to my first public meeting in August 1989 and I said: “Nobody who calls himself a Christian can stand by idly and see how human beings are suffering. If I win this election I will regard it as a mandate from the voters to have these people moved to a better environment.”
I took this message to every meeting, and when I won the election with a landslide I immediately started to negotiate with authorities to find alternative land. The first problem was that there was still a regulation, promulgated by Chris Heunis, that there would be no permanent residence for blacks in the Southern Peninsula.
On October 19 of that year, I had a meeting with the ministerial representative, Jimmy Otto, and after a lengthy discussion he undertook to have the Heunis dictum scrapped.
Now the negotiations for a site started. On November 4, Koos Therron from Provincial Affairs met homeless people to discuss the future. The first positive thing that happened was his undertaking to have permanent water installed at the site.
As 1990 began, the white people of the area started to become agitated because news leaked about the people’s resettlement. Letters attacking me started to appear in the papers. I was then invited to what I believed was a ratepayers’ committee meeting, but when I arrived I discovered that it was a protest meeting. There were almost 1 000 people and the mood was ugly. As I walked into the hall, I was booed to my seat.
When the meeting started, the audience, led by Mark Wiley, attacked the establishment of a permanent township and rounded on me for being the instigator of this decision.
When I got a chance to speak, I reminded the audience of my election pledge, but this did not prevent them from introducing a motion against the establishment of the township and a motion of censure against me.
What happened after that is history. Today, Masiphumelele does have its problems, but the positives outweigh the negatives. It is a solid, peaceful community which only needs a break and financial aid to become a viable suburb of Fish Hoek.
I am proud I could play a role in helping the people obtain better living conditions than they had. It does not mean that the work is done.
Projects like Amakhaya Ngoku are crucial and more are needed. We also need more white involvement in the township. Many whites are doing laudable work there, but most have yet to set foot in Masi.
Everybody deserves his or her place in the sun, especially the longsuffering people from Masiphumelele.