Lessons learnt from Masi violence
The emergence of unified leadership in Masiphumelele after weeks of protest is an opportunity for renewed focus on sustainable development, writes Lutz van Dijk
THE RAPE and killing of 14-year-old Amani Pule on September 15 brought a decisive change to of Masiphumelele and neighbouring settlements.
For all the violence that accompanied the protests – including eight alleged mob killings – never before had the message of these impoverished residents been so clearly expressed.
It is simply that the majority of Masi residents are no different from other residents of the South Peninsula in their determination to fight for the safety of their families and homes from drug dealers and crime. They want a better future for their children.
In a telling reflection of this universal desire, a father from neighbouring Kommetjie who had read the article “Masi leaders try to keep peace” (Weekend Argus, October 31), called to ask how he could make a contribution to the bail money for arrested community leader, 35-yearold Lubabalo Vellem. He said: “This murdered boy, Amani, was the first African friend my son brought home, as they went to the same school. I once took a photo of Amani and my son, both 13 at the time, and said to them: ‘Your friendship is the future of this country.”
Masiphumelele erupted in violent protest on the day of Amani’s murder when police turned up only hours after being alerted; as had happened numerous times before. This was when residents took the law into their own hands and a first person was killed.
Riots broke out for a second time when, instead of any drug dealer or criminal being taken in, police arrested a community leader and seven other protesters. Although some of their actions might have been illegal, most residents appreciated that some at least were trying to do something about growing crime in Masi – and therefore, the arrests were regarded as highly unfair.
The boiling point was reached on Monday, November 2, when about 2 000 Masi residents decided to walk early in the morning the 12.5km from Masiphumelele to the magistrate’s court in Simon’s Town in support of their leader “Luba” and four of the eight arrested protesters (the others having since been released as minors). The scheduled bail hearing had already been postponed twice.
So when just before the lunch adjournment magistrate Crystal McKenna indicated a possible third postponement – as the address of Luba’s sister in Khayelitsha where the accused would be required to stay as a condition of his bail had first to be confirmed – tension in the crowd became extreme.
It was so obvious that a riot police officer at the court entrance asked community leaders for assistance, as it was clear the police would be outnumbered if there were to be trouble.
Through a decisive intervention from other community leaders and defence attorney Lennox Ntsimango, the magistrate was convinced to urgently despatch a police car to Khayelitsha to confirm Luba’s sister’s address.
As a tense crowd waited, a group of Somali shopkeepers from Masi arrived with a truck full of free cool drinks for those who had been singing outside the court since the morning, and had been unable to buy anything as most shops in the area had closed out of fear.
After the adjournment, the magistrate read her detailed order, then released all the accused protesters on bail – one even without bail – as none had any previous convictions. She noted of Lubabalo Vellem: “The accused has great support from the area where he lives.”
In the afternoon the 2 000 residents walked peacefully back to Masi.
It is worth giving attention to some positive effects of the protests which might assist in finding more sustainable answers to finally allowing real development in Masiphumelele.
I need to point out, in case I am misunderstood, that I do not take lightly any of the violent events that occurred, from damage to property inside and outside of Masi to the mob killing of suspected criminals.
At our Homes for Kids in South Africa (Hokisa) residence, we had to evacuate our 20 children twice due to teargas and smoke inhalation, once even in the midst of ongoing riots, the children protected only by elderly ladies of the Masi Women’s Forum, who escorted us out. The rienced serious damage (like businesses in Fish Eagle Park and Lekkerwater Road) and threats (against TEARS animal rescue services).
Equally, we should note that some even resorted to comments like that on a neighborhood watch mailing list which said: “Why not use real bullets against these Masi criminals?”
But this must not blind us to the positive effects the protests produced, some of which might be lasting if we are able to understand them correctly.
A new united leadership has been formed in the community which was able to organise not only a “March for Peace” attended by hundreds of residents on Sunday, October 18, but also to defuse renewed riots the morning after the first bail ended in a postponement on October 26.
It was not the police, but community leaders like Tshepo Moletsane, Nontembiso Madikane and Howard Mbana, supported by Masi taxi owners, who convinced the mainly young and unemployed rioters to stop their actions – to allow thousands of adults and children to return to work and school.
The police learnt important lessons in de-escalating violence.
Since October 26, they have focused on keeping Kommetjie Road open for heavy daily traffic to Cape Town – and ceased playing dangerous cat-and-mouse with young rioters inside Masi.
The new Ocean View Police Station commander, who started on October 12, Lieutenant- Colonel Rufie Nel, has not only visited Masi and its most neglected areas (like the Wetlands informal settlement where 10 000 residents still live mostly without basic services), but has also confirmed his station will be cleansed of all corruption and would welcome the opportunity to work closely with residents.
Ward Councilor Felicity Purchase confirmed on October 27, that – with the backing of Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu and provincial Police Commissioner Major-General Thembisile Patekile – a mobile police station will soon be established at the Masi community hall until a permanent site for a police station has been found within six months to a year.
There have been many reflections of support from surrounding areas like Noordhoek, Kommetjie, Capri, Sun Valley, Fish Hoek, Clovelly and Kalkbay.
Parents of several primary school children invited Masi kids to their families during the most violent days, something much appreciated by Masi parents.
Other families opened their homes to Masi matriculants to prepare for examinations.
Some neighbors (plus the team of the Masi library) collected money towards the legal costs of the arrested protesters. This inspired the Imhoff ’s Gift Homeowners’ Association to raise bail of R5 000 for Lubabalo Vellem. None of those who donated money supports violence, but many are, as one wrote, “concerned about extreme poverty in Masi”.
In January last year more than 900 residents from Masi and surrounding areas signed a petition called No More Charity – True Sharing of Land and Housing.
After a great start, even supported by Premier Helen Zille and Mayor Patricia de Lille, it was more or less dropped by senior city officials only months later who apparently found the Masi delegation just “too demanding”.
Maybe it is time to review this, and respond to the more than justifiable demands of the Masi residents, sooner rather than later.
The protests of recent weeks, coupled with the emergence of a newly united leadership in Masi and the evidence of support from neighbours for their demand for sustainable development, provide the hope that a positive outcome is possible. All levels of government should grasp this opportunity with both hands.
As Masi youth leader and professional childcare worker Simphiwe Nkomombini noted on the area’s Facebook page: “If we do not prioritise the eradication of social injustice, the price we will all pay is the absence of peace.”
● Writer and historian Dr Van Dijk is a volunteer at Homes for Kids in South Africa, which he co-founded in Masiphumelele in 2001.
LESSONS FOR THE LAW: Police fire on protesting Masiphumelele residents earlier this month. Most Masi residents are no different from other residents of the South Peninsula in their determination to fight for the safety of their families and homes from drug dealers and crime, says the writer. They want a better future for their children.