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Rubber bullets fired during tense Hermanus standoff

By AFP 17 May 2018
Caption
Police can be seen trying to keep a group of protesters back as they attempted to continue looting a local hardware store in the township of Seweding near Mahikeng. Picture: Daily Maverick

Police fired rubber bullets to prevent a group of protesters from entering the Abagold abalone plant in Hermanus on Thursday morning, a community activist said.

“There [are] police shooting with rubber bullets,” community leader Sicelo Gxamesi said earlier.

Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut confirmed that police had stepped in, but would not say where they were stationed. He would also not confirm that the police had in fact fired the rubber bullets.

Traut said calm was restored by about 10:30, but added that police were monitoring the situation.

No injuries were reported and no arrests were made, he said.

This came after a fraught Wednesday following a meeting between Overstrand Mayor Dudley Coetzee and community leaders from Zwelihle.

They are demanding that people be allowed to start settling on a 2.5ha tract of land called Schulphoek, while the government deals with the red tape of buying it for them from a private owner.

The fast-tracked processes could set a precedent for other municipalities dealing with similar land demands.

The community feels that the now walled-off land that leads to the sea next door to them, should not have been sold to the private owner in 2010 in the first place. They also claimed they were not consulted properly.

Coetzee said on Wednesday that, regardless of how the land was sold to the private owner, the local community would definitely get it back.

“My priority is to get Schulphoek back,” said Coetzee.

The large tract of land is along the popular Whale Coast route and is also home to a large Milkwood tree forest.

Community leader Gcobani Ndzongana asked at the meeting if people could start moving onto the land, but Coetzee said this would be illegal.

Upset by this, community representatives demanded that Western Cape Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela address them again.

Madikizela had attended a scheduled briefing on a land audit on Tuesday night, but the meeting collapsed amid allegations of politicisation of the Hermanus issue between the DA and ANC, and a feeling by some in the community that they were not being taken seriously.

Ndzongana said the community would go as far as to demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa meet them, if the local government officials did not respond to them immediately.

They warned that Hermanus could be a powder keg if the situation was not handled carefully.

Madikizela was believed to be on a plane. So, about 2 000 people waited in the road outside the municipality offices until 16:00 for him to land, toyi-toying and singing.

They were told he would not be able to come. Instead, Premier Helen Zille, who is overseas, dispatched Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Dan Plato.

Plato got stuck in a traffic jam and, because of a provincial policy against blue lights, only arrived in Hermanus after 19:00.

SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) commissioner Chris Nissen was also present to help broker peace as tensions mounted.

People wanted to be able to go and start clearing the land, saying they were tired of paying high rent to live in backyards in cramped conditions.

By then, two fires had been started on the road, and parts of the fence surrounding the municipality offices were broken as people leaned and pushed against it.

Delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations between the community leaders and local brigadier Donovan Heilbron kept hungry and tired protesters calm, as police kept their distance.

Any slight misunderstanding was dealt with quickly to prevent a complete flare up in the town.

When Plato finally addressed the large group, he proposed that they all meet again at noon on Friday, because he had been parachuted in and was not familiar with the finer details of the housing issue.

“I have to do my homework,” he said to the group. The group shouted that they would sleep in the municipality’s gardens until they get Schulphoek.

After a caucus, the community decided that they would wait until Friday’s meeting at noon, instead of the follow-up meeting scheduled for Sunday at 14:00.

In the meantime, they decided they would start clearing the ground at Schulphoek.

Comment from Abagold was not immediately available. DM

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