South Africa: 'We Don't Have Water, We Don't Have Houses, We Have Nothing' - Vredenburg Protester

Over a thousand residents protested along Southern Bypass Street in Vredenburg.
14 November 2018

On the outskirts of the Western Cape town of Vredenburg, the residents of Ongegund informal settlement live in filth and without basic services.

Illegal electricity connections, called "spiderwebs", crisscross the settlement above the shacks and children play in what appears to be a dumping site.

On Tuesday, residents who had had enough and took to the streets with sjamboks, sticks and knobkieries to demand better service delivery.

A community leader who only identified himself as Mazichana said on Wednesday that the residents were hoping to take their demands directly to the mayor but their efforts were thwarted by the public order police.

He said that their biggest concern was housing.

"People have grown up and moved away without getting a house. Some people have died waiting," he told News24.

Criticism from government

"If you look at Langebaan, it is very developed. It looks like Sandton. When are the developments coming to our community?"

Residents' demands also include protection from the health hazards caused by the asbestos in nearby Smartie Town, electricity installations and access to water and better sanitation.

The protest was met with criticism from the Western Cape government after it escalated to public violence.

Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said that 38 people had been arrested in a showdown between police and protesters on Tuesday.

One officer was injured in the altercation, he added. The local police station was also reportedly stoned.

MEC for community safety Alan Winde said on Wednesday that all citizens had the right to protest, but "it must be done within the ambit of the law to prevent harm to others".

"Unlawful attacks on the police are an attack on the whole community, and on the country's Constitution."

A resident of neighbouring Tsitsiratsitsi, Nosipho Henge, showed News24 one of two taps that provide water for a community of thousands.

Single toilet

"On Saturdays, after 18:00, they switch the taps off. There is no water in the tap on Sundays also," she explained.

"We come at 17:00 to get water, otherwise there's no water at all for the whole day. We don't have toilets, we don't have electricity, we have nothing here."

Those who miss the cut-off time are forced to walk to the local stadium to get water.

"We get infections because everyone is using that one toilet and the municipality only cleans it once a month," she said, pointing at a mobile toilet overflowing with faeces.

"Sometimes they don't clean it and we must walk to the bushes and relieve ourselves."

When News24 arrived in Ongegund, residents resumed their protesting and lit multiple fires on the road.

Protesters injured

Their movements were quietly monitored by a Nyala that followed the crowd from a distance.

Mazichana pointed out the many protesters had also been injured - one man had an open wound on his forehead and a swollen eye.

"Many of our people were injured by the police. They were the people standing in front that were doing nothing and they were shot in the face and the eye," he said.

"One of the guys - we don't know if he's going to see again."

The Saldanha Bay municipal manager was not immediately available for comment when News24 reached out to the municipality's spokesperson Ethne Julius.

Winde meanwhile said the provincial government needed to identify alternative mechanisms to address grievances and address the violence.

"This goes both ways - dialogue between government and its citizens needs to be improved. A violent approach to raising issues has knock-on effects for the whole community."

Winde applauded police for the swift arrests in a high-pressured and under-resourced environment, and encouraged community members to report violent incidents.

Source: News24

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