Tensions mount between Vrygrond and Marina

A little boy, one of many made to bring tyres to add to the fires.

The frustration felt by Marina da Gama and Vrygrond residents – for different reasons – reached boiling point on Saturday May 19 with a flurry of heated exchanges at the Uitsig and Vrygrond intersection.

In what has become a new normal Marina da Gama and Muizenberg residents have, for the past few weeks, endured nightly riots, had their cars and homes petrol bombed and businesses damaged.

SAPS, law enforcement, private security companies and neighbourhood watch members have worked through the night to contain these threats but residents’ frayed nerves were evident on Saturday morning when they woke to another protest and tyres being burnt by about 15 women at the intersection of Prince George Drive and Oudevlei Road.

Furious Marina da Gama residents yelled at the police to do more and tried to remove the burning barricades from the roads themselves.

This enraged the protesters and soon both sides were screaming at each other.

At least one Vrygrond resident yelled, “I am hungry for your blood,” repeatedly.

SAPS had to separate the two groups.

One of the protesters told the Echo that their grievances weren’t land related and neither were they a “criminal or gang element”.

She said they were protesting because they had done “honest work” as part of the City’s Expanded Public Works Programme but had not been paid. “Now nobody in the City wants to talk to us.”

The women claimed they had been promised R140 a day to count backyarders in Vrygrond, but had only been paid R400 for their efforts and been given no explanation.

The False Bay Echo heard a police officer place a call and then tell the crowd their ward councillor Gerry Gordon had said she was in a meeting and could not attend or comment.

Later the Echo emailed Ms Gordon and asked her for details on her constituents’ grievances.

The Echo also asked the City of Cape Town’s media office to respond to the protesters’ allegations that they had been short-changed by the City.

None of these questions were even vaguely answered. Ms Gordon’s response was to send a press release issued by mayor Patricia de Lille condemning public violence.

“We cannot tolerate or accept any justification for the destruction of property during protest action. We respect everyone’s right to protest but the violence and destruction cannot be condoned,” the mayor’s statement said.

Ms De Lille said she had met with the Vrygrond Development Forum, representing the residents, twice in the last month to discuss solutions to the issues it had raised. And she said Ms Gordon had also met with the residents several times about service delivery and housing.

“In one of my meetings with the forum, in late April, the City of Cape Town proposed three pieces of land which could be developed for the benefit of the people of Vrygrond, an option which the leadership forum was open to explore.

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“Following that meeting, City officials conducted a site visit with the community leaders on May 10.

“As a part of the process, the officials showed the community leaders the three proposed pieces of land which could be developed for the benefit of the people of Vrygrond.

“This proposal was rejected by the community leaders.”

Ms De Lille said the City was prepared to listen to any community’s grievances but they had to be expressed in a peaceful way.

“Individuals who use people’s genuine concerns to stoke violence and stir up racial tensions should also be condemned…

But we cannot allow entire communities to be held ransom by the actions of a few.”

But Ms De Lille did not say what exactly would be done, by whom or when. And while her comment addressed the land issues and the criminal element, there was no acknowledgement or answer from the City on the issue of the alleged under-payment of EPWP staff.

Responding to Marina da Gama resident’s accusations that the police response to public violence in the area was inadequate, Muizenberg police spokesman Captain Stephen Knapp said children were at most of the protests in the Vrygrond area and that posed a problem for police.

“Children should not be exposed to any dangerous situations,” he said.

“We would like to urge residents to remain in their homes during these incidents and allow the police to control the situation.”

During the protest, many Vrygrond children were seen being told to bring more tyres or scrap to add to the fire. Asked if that constituted child neglect or abuse, Captain Knapp said: “The reckless endangerment of any minor by an adult is a criminal offence. The use of minors by adults during a protest could be viewed as such.”

Hard pressed for answers from a fuming constituency, ward councillor Aimee Kuhl called an emergency meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the crisis with Ward 64 residents. The False Bay Echo will report back on the outcome of the meeting.