Eviction battle fuels election race

The eviction of about 2 000 homeless backyarders in Delft last week has divided the community and raised allegations of dirty tactics against police in the province.

With 14 months before voting, the issue sparked the first pre-­election salvoes between the city—led by the Democratic Alliance (DA)—and the African National Congress’s Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool.

The backyarders, evicted from occupied houses last week by police using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades, are now fighting among themselves. The community has split into two factions, with some residents living in tents provided by the council and others staying put on the pavement on Symphony Way.

On Monday evening, apparently after a heated meeting between members of the Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) and DA ward councillor Frank Martin, about half the residents moved off the pavement to a piece of land about 1km away. This land was identified by the council for occupation by these destitute families.

Here mobile toilets are set up, big tents are provided for people to move into and people are provided with food.
These people are now called the “DA supporters” by those who stayed behind on the pavement.

Tensions are so high that the pavement dwellers are accusing the “DA supporters” of setting a shack alight on Tuesday night. “We saw two men running away towards the DA section. They’ve also threatened us with death,” the AEC’s Jane Roberts said this week.

This group of people has refused food from the council, saying they want food from NGOs. They claim the council stopped the aid agency Islamic Relief from delivering food and water to those who didn’t want to live in the “DA tents”.

“The DA-controlled City of Cape Town, with scores of armed police, stole four large tents donated by Islamic Relief to the homeless sleeping outside on Symphony Way, claiming the tents are a fire hazard, while just metres away in the DA-controlled section of Symphony Way, the City has actually provided the same kind of tents for the people,” Mzonke Poni of the AEC said.

“This is a good example of how all the political parties are totally against the poor. The DA is trying to starve these residents into submission by blocking food aid to them and exposing their small babies and children.”

The week started off badly for this homeless group when police showed off 34 petrol bombs that three officers had uncovered between the houses from which people were evicted. The bombs—all made in bottles, with same-coloured cloth closing the top and neatly packed in three beer crates—were apparently hidden underneath a door covering a hole in the sand.

Although the police refused to allow interviews with the officers who made the discovery this week, it is understood police believe the bombs were hidden by members of the evicted community.

It’s the second time the police have claimed to find petrol bombs here. On the day they evicted the backyarders using tear gas and stun grenades, local police officers claimed to have found six petrol bombs on one of the illegal occupiers of these newly built houses. The man was arrested.

Community members said this week that the bombs were planted by the police to discredit the community. “The authorities need to show that it was legitimate to fire at us and use force. They planted those bombs,” a woman living in a make-shift structure said.

This week in the provincial legislature Rasool threatened he would sue the DA and Martin for damages because of the illegal occupation of unfinished houses. “This house must be able to send out a message that someone has to pay for what has happened,” Rasool said.

He also accused the DA of promoting racial tension between coloured and black people. The DA was using Delft and the housing crisis as “part of a campaign to win next year’s elections”.

Rasool and the AEC claim Helen Zille, mayor of Cape Town and DA leader, knew in advance that homeless people would invade the houses in Delft.

“Martin is using this issue to build a support base for the DA and he is doing this on instruction from Zille. They’re building their party on the backs of this community and the AEC will not allow this to happen,” Poni said.

Zille said the allegation was “pitiful”.

“I’ve dealt with this tired and incorrect argument. Wherever we have to move people to housing or sites in other areas, there is resistance from local residents—not only in Delft. This is what happens when there is a chronic land and housing shortage. No one has to incite anyone. People get involved in a struggle over scarce resources—which is seriously aggravated when some have been on the waiting list much longer than others.”

Martin is facing charges for incitement and fraud, as well as a city council investigation into his role in the occupation of houses here.

In an SMS sent by Zille to Martin two days before the occupation of the houses in December last year, she wrote: “PLEASE do not do anything that breaks the law tomorrow. The speaker will be forced by law to bring disciplinary [action] against you and there will also have to be action from the DA. Please, please exercise your protest within the law. Helen”

The next day she sent him another message: “Please Frank be very careful. I will fully support a peaceful and legal protest but please do not do anything illegal. You will just make things very difficult for yourself. Helen.”

The AEC said on Thursday that the municipality was going to force people to move to Happy Valley “to get them out of sight and therefore out of mind”.

Dan Plato, mayoral committee member for housing, denied this, saying Happy Valley was “full and it’s lies, lies, lies and absolute rubbish that we’re moving people from Delft to Happy Valley”, he said.

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