Media: Backyard dwellers remain defiant

23 05 2009

By Francis Hweshe
Source: Cape Argus
May 22 2009 at 02:34PM

The defiant backyard dwellers who are continuing to illegally occupy a piece of land in Macassar should retreat, Mayor Dan Plato said.

Tension has grown over the past three days, with the protesting group not backing down on its intention of permanently occupying land close to the N2.

On Thursday Plato said the protesters should stay away from the city-owned land, which had been budgeted for and earmarked for 2000 housing units.

Once environmental impact studies were completed, work would start, he said.

If the group was allowed to squat there, they would “start shouting for services” such as electricity and toilets, he said.

Plato claimed he had heard that certain elements had orchestrated the land invasion through misinformation.

They were sleeping in proper houses while causing trauma for the families spending nights out in the cold, he said.

On Tuesday, police and law enforcement agents razed structures the group had erected and confiscated their building materials.

A fracas broke out as the group clashed with the police, resulting in the injury of one policeman and several other people, and three arrests.

Professor Martin Legassick of the University of the Western Cape, a supporter of the backyard dwellers, was also held but later released.

A day later, the backyard dwellers said they had again erected about 70 structures on a nearby piece of land.

The structures were demolished on Thursday by the law-enforcement agents, and building materials confiscated.

In a statement, the group alleged they had occupied the second piece of land after they had had successful negotiations with local councillor John Heuvel.

“After three hours of negotiations between the backyard dwellers and the ward councillor, it was agreed that they could build on that land, which is 10m from the land they had occupied,” the group said.

Heuvel denied that he gave them the green light to occupy the land, saying politics was at play and “the situation was getting out of hand.”

He was set to meet city officials soon to discuss the matter.

Legassick said it was disgraceful for Heuvel to turn against the group.

“He (Heuvel) should explain himself,” said Legassick.

When the Cape Argus visited the area on Thursday, the situation was relatively calm, but police and law-enforcement agents were there with a Casspir and several police vans.

The backyard dwellers, some with beds, mattresses and blankets still lying on the land, claimed that Heuvel had betrayed them by ordering law-enforcement agents to raze their structures despite an agreement with him.

“People are desperate, my brethren.

“We don’t need violence.

“We need a place to stay,” said Gert Smit, 38.

Women with children said they had nowhere to go on the cold and rainy nights.

Their spokesman Mzonke Poni said the group would stay on the land and the way forward would be discussed on Friday night.

o This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Argus on May 22, 2009

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