Tension soars as police swoop on Cape Town shacks

A massive military presence saw KTC settlement near Cape Town’s Nyanga township resembling a war zone yesterday when the area was sealed off, houses searched and arrests made in what police described as a routine “crime prevention operation”.

Road blocks manned by SA Defence Force troops and military police barred access to the area. More military and police vehicles patrolled streets bordering the settlement and a police helicopter circled above. Residents jeered and applauded when, at about 1pm, the Barrels and Casspirs started leaving the area The incident heightened tension in the Nyanga area, which was fraught with turnouts this week that an attack by rightwing vigilantes – the witdoeke – was imminent. Refugees burned out of their Crossroads shacks last year, who have rebuilt on vacant land in Nyanga, were said to have fled their homes in fear after witdoeke gathered in the Crossroads area overnight.

Inside KTC, residents told the Weekly Mail how police and kitskonstabels had entered and searched their homes yesterday morning. Other witnesses said passengers in private taxis had their baggage searched. In Terminus Road, we watched as several white plainclothes and uniformed policemen, all heavily armed with rifles, emerged from among the shacks and pointed their weapons at the crowd lining the opposite side of the street causing them to scatter. One youth was hauled off to a waiting police van by a uniformed policeman where two black men, one carrying a panga, helped bundle him inside.

As soon as the military and police vehicles were out of sight crowds of men, women and children started toyi toyi-ing down the street singing “I am a guerrilla”. When alerted a Casspir or Buffel was headed their way, they would scatter, only to regroup once it had rumbled past. Lieutenant Denise Benson of the SAP public relations division in the Western Cape said there was “nothing strange” about the operation. “These things happen all the time,” she said. Asked whether it was in response to a grenade attack in the area on Monday when seven patrolling policemen including five kitskonstables, were injured, she said it was in response to “no specific incident”.

She said 14 people had been arrested. KTC residents, whose homes were flooded after heavy rains, were prevented from rebuilding on higher ground cleared after the Crossroads disaster a year ago. On Wednesday the divisional commissioner in the Western Cape, Brigadier Ronnie van der Westhuizen, gazetted an order reimposing last year’s ban on unauthorised people entering cleared land. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper

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Gaye Davis
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