Philippi: What’s behind the violence?

A man pulling a rubbish bin full of roof sheets leaving Marikana (Pics by Mzi Velapi)

Philippi has been struck by violence recently. At least four people have died, including 68-year-old Karel Dilgee who was struck by a stone while driving. There have also been five attempted murders and two houses destroyed by fire. Several cars and at least one Golden Arrow bus have been set alight. Ten people have been arrested, charged with public violence. Residents from neighbouring areas, Marikana and Lower Crossroads, have been fighting with each other. What is causing the violence between these communities?

The story goes back two years. The vacant land in Philippi East next to Symphony Way was first occupied in April 2013. That land is owned by Iris Fischer. The occupying residents named the land Marikana after the victims of the Platinum belt massacre in August 2012. We are told that the main reason for doing so was that like the miners, they were willing to die for their cause, which in this case was the right to a home.

There was a further large occupation of some of the remaining vacant land in August 2014. There are several owners of the occupied land, which is

divided into various erfs. A number of court cases dealing with evictions and the rights of the people occupying the land have taken place or are ongoing. Many, but not all, of the people who have occupied Marikana, used to be backyard dwellers in Lower Crossroads, on the other side of Symphony Way. Marikana was settled because it was unused land next to a burgeoning and very poor informal settlement. Another reason residents give for occupying the land is that it was used for crime by “tsotsis.”

At this point the occupied land is roughly divided into three areas: Old Marikana — the area first occupied, Rolihlahla, and New Marikana. As far as we can tell Old Marikana is independently controlled by the residents living there. Rolihlahla is led by a local ANC councillor, but the extent of his support is disputed. New Marikana is affiliated to the Ses’khona People’s Movement, known for their demonstrations which have involved throwing of faeces and their charismatic and controversial leader Andile Lili.

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Conditions in Marikana are hard: there are no services: neither electricity nor toilets. There have been frequent protests against the City of Cape Town for attempting to evict residents. Last year protesters began demanding that the City deliver services to the area. Residents believe their demands have been ignored.

The protests were a reaction to illegal electricity connections being cut off on Tuesday. The demonstrations this past week have been mostly by New Marikana residents, with some Rolihlahla residents involved too. In the past few days violence has broken out between residents of New Marikana and Lower Crossroads.

Rolihlahla community leader Gcinikhaya Ngqaqu claimed that Ses’khona members are behind the protests. He said he had tried to reason with the protesters but it was hard because he was not a Ses’khona leader. “These people only listen to Ses’khona leaders. It does not matter what idea you have: if you are not a Ses’khona member they do not listen,” he told GroundUp.

Residents of New Marikana, the section controlled by Ses’khona, allegedly burnt down the RDP house in Lower Crossroads lived in by the local ward councillor, Mzuzile Mpondwana.

House that was petrol-bombed in Lower Crossroads

We understand (and this has to be confirmed) that Mpondwana, an ANC member, was a teacher at Matthew Goniwe High School before he was elected ward councillor last year.

A 24-year-old woman, Thembeka (not her real name) said that Mpondwana deserved what he got. She said the protesters had taken a letter to Mpondwana that he was supposed to sign but he refused. Though she could not explain what was in the letter, she said Mpondwana didn’t take their grievances seriously and his house had been burnt down to “teach him a lesson.”

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Some residents said they burnt Mpondwana’s house because they believe he stole it, that he had used his position to jump the RDP housing queue.
On Thursday before Mpondwana’s house was burnt a group of men carrying pangas and sticks was seen in the area. The group walked between shacks calling on residents to participate in a protest. They held a meeting at Symphony Way. Thembeka said that the decision to burn down Mpondwana’s house was taken then. “One of our leaders told us that the ward councillor refused to sign the letter. He told us that Mpondwana does not care about us and he lives in a RDP house. Residents said the house must be burnt.”

She added that Mpondwana does not care about Marikana, and that he only cares for Lower Crossroads residents because he lives there.
However Mpondwana said burning his house had nothing to do with service delivery. He said that people were not happy when he won the ward by-election last year. He accused people of using the protest to settle the score. “Yes I live in an RDP house, but the house is registered under my wife’s name. The time she received the house we were not married. We only got married recently,” he said.

He said those behind the burning of his house were bitter about the by-election outcome.

Addressing the protesters, Andile Lili told them to continue fighting for their rights. However the following day, after two people were killed in Marikana, Lili came back and called for peace.

That there are other unknown motives involved is possible, but the above is so far the most plausible explanation from the available evidence.
Unless the living conditions of the people of Marikana improve, it is likely that the violence of the past week will recur.