Vigilantism causes tensions in Blikkiesdorp

Debris from burning tyres at the entrance of Blikkiesdorp. All photos by Mfundo Mhlanganiso

Blikkiesdorp is on a knife edge following the burning of shacks of those accused of habouring thugs and gangsters.

Racial tensions remain high in Blikkiesdorp informal settlement near Delft after the shacks of mainly “coloured” residents were burned down by “a group of African men” accusing them of habouring thieves and gangsters.

Jo-Anne Cupido stays in Blikkiesdorp and is a member of the Housing Assembly, a movement that is fighting for decent houses for all. She said the ‘temporary relocation area’ – as it was proclaimed when the City of Cape Town relocated residents there in 2007 – has been on a knife edge since last week Tuesday. “It started after an announcement by the City of Cape Town that it will move only those it relocated in the area and not the ones who came to build their own shacks here.” Cupido blames the Blikkiesdorp Joint Committee for the violence that saw six shacks torched in P-section of the informal settlement. “The committee want their own people to benefit from the houses that we have been promised by the City”.

When Elitsha arrived in the settlement we noticed a heavy police presence along Symphony Way. A group of about thirty men with sticks stood around a fire where the short cut to Delft crosses a broken fence. Most of them wore coats with some hiding their faces with balaclavas. They looked at us suspiciously when we approached.

“We are sitting here because we want to protect the community and we have decided to stand up against thugs,” said Vuyo Monwabisi who was elected by the group to speak to us. “We just decided to take control of our environment; they say it’s about race but it’s not. It’s about fighting crime that is tormenting this settlement. As Africans we are targets of the thugs and thieves. They say ‘coloureds’ don’t have nice things, [that] we are the ones with nice clothes and furniture,” said Monwabisi. He laughed when asked if he was giving his real name or not.

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“Gangsters have been running this place. A gang called Gifted are the ones who were breaking into peoples’ houses and if you want your stuff back then you have to pay them to go get it back for you. You guys with this car of yours and nice clothes and phones, two weeks ago you would not have lasted here,” he pointed out.

Some of the shacks that were burned by a group of vigilantes.

His sentiments about being robbed in broad daylight with people watching was echoed by a 36-year-old resident who wanted to remain anonymous. “You see I’m standing outside now with you and before the group of ‘African’ men took over, you would not have lasted here,” she said. “At least we can sleep now; we used to sleep with one eye open. As a coloured person I fully support what they are doing. Some coloured people are against what they are doing and they say we are racist but there is also a big number of coloured people who support what they are doing to protect us. Everyone knows who the thugs are and where they live but the police weren’t doing anything about it,” she said.

We met some of the families in P-section whose shacks had been destroyed. “They came around past 10 last night (Sunday). They waited for the police to leave and they were hiding behind the bushes. They claimed that my son is a gangster but he is not. They shot my nephew in front of the police,” said the 57-year-old. Her husband who is 60 years old said that he regards the attack on his family as fueled by racism. “They attacked us because we are coloureds,” he said. He told Elitsha that he has been on the housing waiting list for 24 years. His friend, also preferring to remain anonymous, said that he is scared for his life. “I can’t defend myself or my wife or my grandchildren. We don’t know if they will come back again. I’m 69 years old and I have to stay in this bulls*&t place,” he said.

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Residents whose homes were destroyed sit around a fire as they wait for help from Disaster Management.

Delft Police meanwhile have deployed their members and other agencies in the area.  “It has been this way and more focus driven operations are taking place to curb crime in the area,” said Captain John Bartlett in an email communication.  He could not, however, tell how many people have been killed due to the vigilantism. Some residents say there are three people who have died including an alleged druglord in the area.

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