Frustration at protests

Some of the Ward 64 residents who attended a feedback session about the Vrygrond protests.

Tempers flared at a public meeting last week when residents demanded the authorities take tougher action against protesters, following recent unrest near Vrygrond and Marina da Gama.

Ward 64 councillor Aimee Kuhl called the meeting, attended by about 150 people at the Lakeside Traffic Centre on Wednesday May 23. Residents heard from director Robbie Robberts, the co-ordinator of the City’s law enforcement, traffic, and Metro police services; acting commander of Muizenberg SAPS Lieutenant Colonel Mzwandile Gqabi and DA chief whip Mark Wiley.

The meeting was heated at times, and residents seemed divided between tougher action – including calling in the army – and calling for talks with Vrygrond community leaders.

The meeting heard that Vrygrond was one of more than 30 housing protest hot spots in the province right now and that in some cases the protesters were firing live rounds at the police.

Mr Robberts said SAPS took the lead when dealing with civil unrest but their role was to monitor the situation until Public Order Policing (POP) arrived. They were trained to handle crowed control and public violence, but they lacked manpower and were not based nearby.

Mr Robberts said City law enforcement played a support role because they weren’t trained for crowd control. But the City had an anti-land invasion unit that helped to clear illegally erected structures.

Asked how a handful of protesters were able to cause extensive road closures, Mr Robberts said roads were closed to save lives.

“There are live rounds being fired at us – we cannot take the chance of a stray bullet hitting a civilian on their way home – the closures are for your safety,” he said.

He appealed to residents to stay away from protests and not put themselves and others at risk by intervening in police work.

Lietenant Colonel Gqabi, said Muizenberg police station lacked staff and vehicles but officers were working overtime to protect the public.

Mr Wiley said the unrest required a balance between the right to land and the right to safety.

Responding to a call from a resident for the army to be brought in, he said that could lead to another Marikana. Soldiers were trained to shoot to kill and a bullet from an assault rifle could rip through five or six people, including the women and children who were at many of the protests.

Mr Wiley drew a murmur from the crowd when he suggested the land invasions were largely politically motivated. He said party-affiliated agitators should be held accountable.

Mr Robberts said land invasions and protests were getting priority attention at provincial level. Premier Helen Zille had called a meeting to discuss a co-ordinated response to the crisis. And SAPS and City authorities were meeting twice daily to plan responses to the public-violence flare-ups.

Mr Robberts said police had so far made 115 public-violence related arrests.

In response to requests from the crowd, Lieutenant Colonel Gqabi said that only if it was considered safe enough for the residents, and if they had staff on hand to do so, would SAPS escort workers to or from home in Vrygrond.

Residents were urged to remain calm and follow instructions from SAPS or law enforcement.

Mr Wiley urged everyone to join their local neighbourhood watches.

“Even if you are not patrolling or on the front line protecting private property, you can still play a supportive role by passing on credible information, and not spreading inflammatory and false information, or even bringing a flask of hot coffee to those who are.”

The meeting heard that some residents of Marina da Gama and Muizenberg were calling for closer ties with Vrygrond’s leaders in the hope of finding peaceful solutions to the community’s greatest needs.

Ms Kuhl said she had asked to be included in talks with Vrygrond ward councillor Gerry Gordon so she could pass on information to her constituents. Lieutenant Colonel Gqabi asked anyone who had had property or cars damaged in the protest action to open a docket at the police station, to build an accurate picture of the damage caused during the protests.

Numbers to call in the event of an emergency are: 10111, 107 and 011 480 77 00.