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

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

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.

PIC­TURE: MICHAEL WALKER

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.

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