Sixteen people are expected to appear in the Hermanus Magistrate's Court on Monday after they were arrested in Zwelihle, where a police officer fell victim to an axe attack and was robbed of his firearms last week.
“Two suspects have been arrested for the possession of the stolen [SA Police Service] firearms and they are due in court tomorrow (Monday) together with 14 others who were arrested for public violence,” Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut said.
“The shotgun and the 9mm pistol have been recovered and one shotgun is yet to be seized,” he added.
Attackers used an axe and struck the officer on the head while he was in his police vehicle on Thursday night. Three firearms were stolen.
Cluster Commander Brigadier Donovan Heilbron said the officer had undergone surgery and was recovering well, but was still in a critical condition. His family was with him. Police Minister Bheki Cele and Provincial Police Commissioner Khombinkosi Jula had also been to visit him.
Police have not yet been able to confirm the reported death of a baby due to teargas inhalation.
Heilbron said last week the only reported death was that of a woman who had died of “natural causes”.
After the attack on the police officer, a tactical team descended on the area to fortify police who had already stationed themselves at intersections leading out of Zwelihle and carried out arrests.
Protests flared up in March over land for backyarders, after a group started pegging out plots on municipal land. There were also complaints about alleged irregularities in the government housing processes and the unequal expenditure of services between black and white residents.
The protests subsided after some residents organised themselves into the Zwelihle Renewal Committee to negotiate with the municipality and the Department of Human Settlements, on behalf of the community, over land for backyarders and others who have been battling to find affordable places to live.
Unrest subsided as the negotiations revealed that a private plot called Schulphoek would be bought back from developers, and other municipal stands would be made available.
News24 understands from a Zwelihle Renewal Committee member that protests flared up yet again two weeks ago when a fence on the Sandbaai side of Zwelihle was removed, allegedly by some Zwelihle residents who felt they were blocked off from the rest of Hermanus.
The municipality was informed about this and told to fetch the fence. During discussions between some of the Zwelihle Renewal Committee members and the municipality, the committee members were told they would not be arrested over the fence issue.
However, committee member Gcobani Ndzongana was arrested for malicious damage to property and incitement, and a campaign for his release from custody started. The campaign became volatile.
Since then, many have been arrested and some have already been released. Traut said 31 other people also faced charges, which included public violence.
For Ndzongana’s court appearance last Thursday, the community’s way out of Zwelihle was restricted on the grounds that permission for a march to court had not been obtained. Mostly men were denied passage.
On Friday, Cele and other officials, including Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, proceeded to a stadium to address the community, and after, a meeting at the municipality.
However, a walkout started and in a subsequent emergency meeting on the side, Cele promised to return on Tuesday to discuss residents’ grievances during the off-stage meeting.
The grievances included that they felt police treated everybody as if they were guilty of causing damage during the protests. He said they had no problem with the local police officers, but that the reinforcements brought from other areas were problematic. They also felt they were not acknowledged for helping the police get their stolen firearms back.
One activist told News24 he was in hiding because it was believed that the leaders driving the land process were being targeted. There was also a suspicion that the municipality and Department of Human Settlements would renege on the Schulphoek agreement because documents that contained the government’s agreement to purchase the land, which activists signed, were sought during police searches.
MEC for Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela told News24 on Sunday that there was no truth to the rumours of reneging on the agreement.
He pointed out that the purchase involved government money and that there were certain processes that had to be followed. One was to get three valuations, and this was completed. Madikizela said the sale would be negotiated, and once finalised, work on the installation of utilities could get under way.
In the meantime, some residents are living on a temporary site, facilitated by the Overstrand Municipality, and they will wait there until the Schulphoek deal is sealed.
Heilbron said everything was calm over the weekend and after a community meeting, there was an agreement that there would be free movement, where people could go to work and children could go to school.
An application for permission to march down the R43 to the court was not received by late on Sunday. Police are expected to monitor the situation on Monday. DM