Casualties of violence

Marina da Gama residents’ cars were stoned, two flats facing Vrygrond were petrol bombed and one case of attempted murder was opened by a woman who suffered burns, after her car was set alight by rioters from Vrygrond.

Other cases of public violence and malicious damage to property were also opened.

This flare-up of violence took place on Monday night April 30 at 7.15pm, when rioters attacked passing cars under the cover of darkness.

The rioters want a piece of land in Vrygrond to build homes on, but the land is not earmarked for housing or human habitation.

Western Cape police spokeswoman, Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana, said the woman whose car was set alight had heard a smashing sound and seen flames inside her car moments after passing a group of children on the roadside. She was taken to hospital with burn injuries.

Police arrested a 23-year-old man for public violence.

Marina da Gama residents posted pictures on social media showing damage to their cars: smashed windshields and dents from hurled bricks and bottles.

The rioters set off at least six stun grenades and rapid gunfire could be heard in the area.

Police reports put the number of rioters at about 150 but witnesses said there were far more. One resident told the False Bay Echo she had been driving home from work when rioters had swarmed from hiding places in bushes along Prince George Drive.

They had charged her car, screaming, lobbing bottles, bricks and chunks of masonry at her.

“Their faces were contorted with rage, they were screaming as they chased me. I am incredibly lucky that their home-made petrol bombs did not actually connect with my car: I know of one woman who was burned and a number of other people whose windscreens were shattered in similar attacks tonight,” she said.

“As I turned the corner, a stun grenade went off, and there was rapid-fire shooting from the darkness behind me, coming from Vrygrond.”

On the scene, the False Bay Echo watched the rioters advance in waves, taking cover behind makeshift shields of tin or wood as they burnt tyres, threw petrol bombs at the nearby flats, and hurled bricks at the windows.

The Marina da Gama Association was approached for comment on behalf of their residents and homeowners, but by the time of going to print had not yet responded.

A spokesperson and resident who asked not to be named but is well known to the False Bay Echo said all appeals by community leaders to talk and for reason had been ignored by the faction who were rioting. He said: “This action is now being taken by gangsters.”

The rioters said they wanted a specific piece of land and were not happy with an alternative site offered to them by mayor Patricia de Lille.

Xolani Koyana, Ms De Lille’s spokesperson, said the land people had occupied had been rezoned as a nature reserve a few years ago through a process facilitated by national government.

“The City of Cape Town will explore what action can be taken to free up any pockets of land in the vicinity for housing development,” he said.

He said the Vrygrond community leadership had been given information about a proposed housing project that would employ 55 Vrygrond residents under the Expanded Public Works Programme to survey backyarders in the area.

“The survey, which is to start from May, will help the City to establish the number of people in need of housing in the area and to identify beneficiaries for the housing project,” Mr Koyana said.

Mymoena Scholtz, of Where Rainbows Meet, a community-based organisation in Vrygrond, said she had been working in Vrygrond for 20 years and it was important to stress that it was not the whole community orchestrating the violence.

“We in Vrygond are against violence and do try to talk people down and explain that this will not help their cause, but you can’t reason with people so filled with rage and frustration,” Ms Scholtz said.

She said protest had given way to criminal acts. While most in the community did not support violence, they understood the frustration that had fuelled it.

“I work here every day. I see the tragedy and the poverty and the drugs and the unemployment, and I see first-hand how the youth have no hope and no prospects. The people feel ignored, like their needs are not important enough to act on. If there is a burst water pipe, they have to wait a week. If lights go out, we have to beg for them to be fixed. There is no service delivery to speak of. And over a long period of time, that wears the people down,” she said.

Ms Scholtz said child-protection services were needed desperately, but those services and other critical needs weren’t being met because Vrygrond was last on the waiting list for help.

“The people are angry. They have seen others living on that land for a year already – and then they are told they can’t because it’s now a nature reserve. They don’t understand why not.”

Ms Scholtz said her organisation helped people in many ways, including how to channel their complaints so they could be heard by government.

“But in all these years, I have seen little significant change.”

However, Ms Scholtz remains positive.

“Yes,” she said, “of course there is a way forward. Of course we can resolve it. What the community needs is for government officials to meet with the Vrygrond Community Development Forum, set up as a forum specifically to focus on the community’s needs, and for them to offer actionable options. In short, this is the time to deliver on promises that have been made for years and not been acted on.”

She said resolutely: “If government officials come to us with answers and solutions, it will put an end to all of this.”