Stand-off as back­yarders stake their claim

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JAN CRONJE

ABOUT 200 back­yarders from Mbek­weni, Paarl, oc­cu­pied a 1km-long stretch of mu­nic­i­pal-owned land yes­ter­day, say­ing it been promised to them.

The land, next to Jan van Riebeeck Drive, had been staked out in rec­tan­gu­lar claims for dwellings to be built, but none had yet been con­structed.

About 40 uni­formed of­fi­cers and two ar­moured Nyalas kept watch from the road, which was closed to traf­fic.

While the sit­u­a­tion was tense, it did not erupt into vi­o­lence, al­though at least one stun grenade was fired.

Police left the scene and re-opened the road at 1.30pm, after a meet­ing with com­mu­nity lead­ers.

Ear­lier in the day, com­mu­nity spokesman Tiny Ja­cobs, of the Mbek­weni Back­yarders As­so­ci­a­tion, said the land – which he re­ferred to as Erf 557 – had been promised to back­yarders in the 2012/13 fi­nan­cial year by the Drak­en­stein Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

He and other oc­cu­piers were adamant they were not “in­vad­ing” land, but tak­ing what had been promised to them.

“( Pre­vi­ous prom­ises) are why we have de­cided we are go­ing to build here, whether police are here or not,” said Ja­cobs, to shouts of agree­ment.

The plot was di­vided into sec­tions yes­ter­day with wooden stakes and marked with paint. While some oc­cu­piers had started to dig with spades, there was a lack of ma­te­ri­als.

Ja­cobs said the back­yarders had many griev­ances.

He said they were un­happy they had not re­ceived hous­ing at the R100 mil­lion Drommedaris hous­ing pro­ject nearby, say­ing “out­siders” were given pref­er­en­tial treat­ment, while many oc­cu­piers had been wait­ing more than a decade for land and houses.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers, in­clud­ing a 17-year-old boy who skipped school, told Week­end Ar­gus they had lost faith in the hous­ing list.

Some claimed their names had been re­moved from it.

Bukiwe Kolose, a 35-yearold mother of two, was among the oc­cu­piers. Kolose, who is un­em­ployed, said she was liv­ing as a back­yarder in Mbek­weni at a cost of R700 a month. She claimed that, in June 2002, she had been made to un­der­stand she would get a house.

“To­day I am go­ing to sleep right here,” she said, in­di­cat­ing a patch of land with four stakes on it.

The stand-off be­tween oc­cu­piers and police re­mained calm un­til 1pm, when a stun-gren- ade went off.

It ap­peared ready to boil over into vi­o­lence, with some oc­cu­piers taunt­ing police, but the at­mos­phere calmed down after ANC coun­cil­lor Tem­bek­ile Man­gena held a meet­ing with police of­fi­cials.

Man­gena said he was ask­ing for Drak­en­stein mu­nic­i­pal­ity of­fi­cials to “have a peace­ful meet­ing” with him and com­mu­nity lead­ers.

He said back­yarders wanted to see the hous­ing list to check their names.

Fol­low­ing the meet­ing, police left at around 1.30pm, while most oc­cu­piers also with­drew and the road was re­opened.

Drak­en­stein act­ing mu­nic­i­pal man­ager Jac­ques Carstens con­firmed last night the peo­ple who oc­cu­pied the land had dis­persed.

“Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials will mon­i­tor the area to en­sure no il­le­gal struc­tures are built,” he said, adding that a pri­vate con­trac­tor was on standby to as­sist with the break­down and re­moval of il­le­gal struc­tures.

Re­act­ing to claims the hous­ing list had been tam­pered with, Carstens said the list was strictly au­dited.

“The list was sub­mit­ted and ap­proved by coun­cil and was sub­mit­ted to the pro­vin­cial depart­ment of Hu­man Set­tle­ments,” he said.

“No changes may be made to this list with­out a for­mal de­ci­sion by the coun­cil and prov­ince.”

Carstens also de­nied claims DA sup­port­ers re­ceived pref­er­en­tial treat­ment when houses were al­lo­cated.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity was “will­ing to dis­cuss any griev­ances the com­mu­nity has”, he added, but did not say whether a meet­ing had been ar­ranged.

jan.cronje@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: JA­SON BOUD

Some of the peo­ple from Mbek­weni, Paarl, who oc­cu­pied a piece of mu­nic­i­pal­ity-owned land yes­ter­day.

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