South Africa: Ficksburg Community Leaders Arrested During Clashes Over Land Occupation

The Setsoto Local Municipality has obtained an interim order preventing any new shacks from being erected

Community members who led a mass protest by residents of Ficksburg in the Free State are among the 11 people who appeared in court on charges of public violence this week. They are due back at the Ficksburg Magistrates Court on 28 June.

The town was brought to a standstill on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week after metro police and the anti-land invasion squad arrived at Boiketlong informal settlement with an interim court order to demolish new shacks on the occupied land.

Most of the occupiers have been living on the site in Meqheleng township since January this year.

According to shack dwellers, they had been in negotiations with the mayor of Setsoto Local Municipality. They want the settlement to be formalised and get services.

But they say on 25 May, officials and metro police showed up unexpectedly to demolish new shacks on the land. The Boiketlong residents resisted the demolition.

Community leader Ishmael Khosi said, "We moved to that area because the land has been vacant for more than ten years. In March we met with the municipality and Mayor Seipati Mbiwe who promised to come back and address the community."

Khosi said that instead of getting feedback "we were surprised by people accompanied by police to destroy shacks".

Another leader, Lele Motsiri, told GroundUp that "all hell broke loose".

He believes the community leaders were targeted by police.

"We heard that the municipality wants to lease that land because it was a peach project where people were planting peaches and that project ended ten years ago," said Motsiri.

Setsoto Municipal Manager Nomvula Malatjie said the interim order was granted to stop more shacks from being erected on the land. "They will be given an opportunity in court on 27 June to give reasons why that particular order should not be made final.

"The municipality did not evict/demolish any structures. It only served the interim court order at the 13 newly erected structures. A portion of the land is currently leased to a member of the Meqheleng community for an agricultural project," said Malatjie.

She said the area occupied by residents is earmarked for development.

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