A few hundred members of the Intlungu yaseMatyotyombeni Movement (IYM) boarded taxis in Khayelitsha and made their way to the Cape Town Civic Centre on the morning of Thursday 19 November. Their intention was to prevent any workers from entering the building, including the mayor, Dan Plato.
“We were supposed to meet [with Plato] on Friday [13 November], but all he did was send his juniors. So we had to stop the meeting because we didn’t want to speak with the juniors, we wanted to speak to Dan Plato,” said Jolakazi Kwangi, 27, one of the organisers of the protest. Plato’s failure to meet the group prompted the protest.
“We decided that no one would work on that day. We were angry. We had been marching in Khayelitsha and got no response,” said Zama Timbela, 36, another one of the movement’s organisers.
On their arrival, the protesters split into groups and blocked all the entrances to the Civic Centre. According to Timbela, the police arrived between 8am and 9am. “They asked what we wanted, and we said we want services in Khayelitsha and these new places we occupy. They said they would get Dan Plato to come and address us.”
Instead, the police arrested some of the protesters. “They came with shields and started to shoot stun grenades and arrested the comrades,” Timbela said. “There was no violence. We didn’t burn anything, we didn’t stone cars, we didn’t stone windows, nothing. We were just waiting on them to fetch Dan Plato,” he said.
Thirty-one protesters were arrested and released in the early hours of Friday. They were charged with public violence. Before they could enter the courtroom on the following Monday, the case was dismissed.
Strength in unity
The IYM was established in October when the residents of 15 new shack settlements decided to coordinate their efforts to get water, electricity and sanitation. Names such as Level 2, Covid 19, Pandemic, Social Distance and Lock Down reflect that most of them were established during the coronavirus state of disaster and lockdown. The others are Thembeni, Sakhile Nathi, Phumlani, Mpolweni, Makhaza, New Dawn, Noxolo Xawuka, Zwelethu, Dubai and Island.
Mabhelandile Twani, 38, an IYM organiser, lost his job at the start of the lockdown and found himself unable to pay his rent. When he heard that people in Khayelitsha were holding meetings with the intention of occupying vacant land, he decided to join them. Twani now lives in Level 2.
He contests the City of Cape Town’s default response of not having the budget to provide services to these settlements. “We are telling this City that it must cut the budget from Constantia and cut the budget from Bishopscourt,” he argued.
“We have also seen that the City has managed to get R16 million to hire private security to look after the land we have already occupied, because law enforcement and the police have failed to remove us. Three weeks ago, when Table Mountain was burning, they used millions to put out the fire. So we are saying all those monies can be used to rescue us in the conditions that we are living in,” said Twani.
“To the City, we say that the National Disaster [Management] Act permits you to help us, because this is a disaster we find ourselves in.”
Aftermath of a protest
While IYM members were protesting at the Civic Centre, other protesters blocked the N2 highway in Cape Town. Kwangi said that earlier the police had fired rubber bullets and even arrested a resident of the Covid settlement who was not involved in the protest.
By noon there was no activity. Traffic police blocked the entrance to Covid while Nyala armoured vehicles were parked on the road between them and the shacks about 200m away. The smell of burnt tyres remained in the air and smoke continued to rise from a few pieces of smouldering rubber on the ground.
Down near the bush, Kwangi and two of her fellow protesters sat on a grey concrete block that houses the only water source within walking distance for the 8 200 residents of Covid. Like Twani, she lost her job at the beginning of the lockdown. Without an income, she was forced to leave the home she was renting and build herself a shack in Covid.
Kwangi says collecting water is hazardous as residents have to cross a busy road. “There’s a lot of accidents here. We are just asking if they can bring the tanks,” she said, referring to the water tankers that the City of Cape Town deployed to other shack settlements during the lockdown.
While Kwangi was telling her story, an elderly woman, accompanied by a young girl, arrived to collect water in a 20-litre bucket. “The bucket is heavy. I live far, over there, and carrying the water gives me neck pain,” she said as she gestured towards a tree about 200m away. “If the City of Cape Town gives us water and toilets, we won’t toyi-toyi. Not even electricity, just water and toilets,” the elderly woman continued.
Kwangi added: “We are also humans. We cannot live like this.”