Stand-off as backyarders stake their claim
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.
Some of the people from Mbekweni, Paarl, who occupied a piece of municipality-owned land yesterday.