Now the Cape erupts

Running battles between police and residents resulted in at least five deaths and scores of injuries when violence erupted in Cape Town ‘s biggest township, Khayelitsha, yesterday. A black pall of smoke hung over the area late yesterday, spewed by blazing shacks and burning barricades. 

The violence comes a week after an MP warned State President FW de Klerk that the situation in Khayelitsha was “explosive” and could lead to a cycle of violence similar to the situation in Natal. Police used force to halt a march yesterday, despite appeals to allow it to go ahead peacefully.
Early yesterday, a crowd of about 10 000 gathered in Zola Budd Drive to march on the offices of the Lingelethu West Town Council, which were damaged in an explosion on Wednesday night. The marchers were to deliver a petition demanding the resignation of Khayelitsha mayor Mali Hoza and his town councillors. 

Permission for the march was earlier denied by a magistrate. At 10am, police on the scene gave orders for the crowd to disperse in two minutes. The crowd had not yet begun to move off when police - opened fire with teargas, rubber bullets and birdshot. One man, who collapsed and died in the fleeing crowd, was said to have a bullet wound in his head. However, police denied they used Jive ammunition, suggesting he may have been shot by someone in the crowd. Minutes later police opened fire again and another man was killed. 

According to Red Cross workers, he was Lundi Gaga (20) a newspaper vendor. Police confirmed five deaths but said only one man was killed through police action in Zola Budd Drive. One man was stabbed to death and another died of a bullet wound “inflicted by sharp ammunition”. In a later incident, two men were shot and killed by police when they attacked the house of a special constable. A police spokesman said that groups began throwing stones and rocks at police patrols and private vehicles from early yesterday morning. Police were forced to use teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. 

After the initial action, an African National Congress delegation tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with riot police led by Brigadier Frik Kellerman. Lawyer Dulla Omar and ANC repre¬sentative Amos Lengesi made an appeal to Kellerman that the march be allowed to go ahead peacefully. He responded: “If you cannot control your people then we will have to. You cannot expect me to allow an illegal march to happen.” ANC regional chairman Christmas Tinto appealed to people to disperse, to prevent any further injuries. Police then allowed thousands of residents to make their way to the Khayelitsha stadium. Police stationed outside the stadium later gave people gathered in the stadium permission to return to their homes. 

However, as the crowd made its way along the road, a different contingent of police opened fire with teargas, rubber bullets and birdshot. This prompted a hail of stones from the crowd and sparked a series of running battles as people scattered. By 2pm shacks were blazing in Site C - traditionally Hoza’s stronghold. A police helicopter clattered overhead as residents raced to remove furniture from other shacks threatened by the blaze. Several shacks were destroyed by the time firemen arrived. Residents said a shack belonging to a special constable had been torched first, and it had then ignited others. Ambulances manned by Red Cross workers operated as mobile clinics. 

Staff at Khayelitsha Day Hospital said they had treated 20 injured, five of whom had been transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital with serious injuries. Long-simmering tensions in Khayelitsha, which has a population of more than 300 000, were fuelled recently with the introduction of back-dated service charges. These represented, in some cases, a 109 percent increase in rent. Democratic Party MP Jan van Eck last week wrote to De Klerk, urging him to intervene personally in “the highly explosive situation in Khayelitsha.” - Gaye Davies and Glenda Daniels

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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