Several people were arrested in a pre-dawn security clampdown to prevent a ‘coloured’ (mixed-race) protest designed to shut down Cape Town on Monday.
City authorities, who caught wind of the protest over the weekend as social media here was abuzz at the prospect of South Africa’s second city being brought to a halt again by disaffected citizens who mainly live in the city’s low-income eastern suburbs.
A group declaring that it represented ‘brown’ South Africans and saying they had been excluded by successive white minority governments and now were also being excluded by the black majority government of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) were behind the protest.
Despite the prospect of a major clash, city authorities appear to have closed off key routes and most protesters never made it to rally points, with only a few incidents of stone-throwing and tyre-burning reported.
A police spokesperson said there had been protests in several of Cape Town’s south-eastern suburbs, as well as in some towns near the city, but that only “small groups” has been involved.
There had been deep concern among city officials and commuters as this same group last August launched a successful effort to shut down central Cape Town.
But even as the threat of wide scale violence associated with the protest faded, the city was bracing for more trouble around illegal land invasions, which have proliferated in both Cape Town and Johannesburg after the initial Covid-19 lockdown.
Complicating matters for authorities is that fact that key players at all three levels of government are down with Covid-19, with four national cabinet minister now formally confirmed with the coronavirus, and the country’s Deputy President David Mabuza also ‘ill’, with an unspecified condition which has kept out of the public arena for weeks.
In part, the ‘Brown Lives Matter’ protest was also about the lack of affordable housing in SA’s over-populated and under-developed urban centres. In social media the group said it shut Cape Town down in August 2019 and would do the same again as ‘nothing had been done’ to improve the lives of backyarder dwellers.
OPPORTUNISTIC POLITICAL GROUPINGS
“Over the past year, our situation has gotten worse and we are nowhere near a solution. People are still being evicted and thrown to the streets during this time of natural disaster, with no concern for their health and safety,” the group said.
City of Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said: “It cannot be that a so-called ‘shutdown’ is announced and promoted in advance by opportunistic political groupings, who plan to infringe on the rights of residents.”
While there were some burning tyres left in streets of areas where the protests had been expected, turn-out was much lower than anticipated, possibly because it had become known that authorities would not tolerate any protests and had cut off access to rallying points.
Partly the city’s tough line has been instigated by numerous land invasions wherein people desperate to find somewhere affordable to live, usually the very poor and unemployed, set up one-room galvanised metal shacks on undeveloped land – sometimes already allocated for formal low-income housing development.
Plato said the city has been dealing with many such incidents as people identified one piece of undeveloped land after another within the metro’s jurisdiction, re-iterating President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration position on no tolerance for illegal land-grabs.
Forced removals under court order have taken place in both cities, as well as elsewhere in the country, including one in which a naked man was recently videoed grappling with law-enforcement officers as they attempted to pull down his recently-erected shack near Khayelitsha, a sprawling informal settlement of some 400,000 people about 35km south-east of Cape Town.
Plato has also requested an urgent meeting with Ramaphosa and his team to deal with the land invasions, which are placing increasing strain on police.
Police across the country are already hard-pressed due to Covid-19 duties.