By Tariro Washinyira
After about eight households were left without electricity for over five months as a result of vandalism, women from Victoria Mxenge Community in Philippi, Cape Town, have started to patrol day and night to stop illegal electricity connections and to protect their property.
There has been on-going conflict since land nearby was occupied in 2018 forming the Ramaphosa informal settlement. On Easter Friday, the community called a meeting to resolve issues with the informal settlement dwellers. About 80 people attended. The decision was taken to set up the patrols. Then, last week Thursday, the situation got completely out of hand.
Community leader Patricia Matolengwe, who has been living in Victoria Mxenge for 21 years, said: “They [Ramaphosa residents] returned with vigour. It was very bad. The situation is still tense. They petrol bombed, vandalised electrical boxes while targeting the bigger one so as to ensure there is no electricity left at all in the area. They were shouting and throwing stones … Police appeared petrified of the situation.”
Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana told GroundUp that four suspects were arrested last week on charges of attempted murder, malicious damage to property and public violence.
“Police have been engaging the residents of both areas in order to solve the problem. The residents of Victoria Mxenge are complaining about residents of Ramaphosa informal settlement who they accuse of illegally connecting electricity to theirs which causes problems for them.”
“One resident suffered damages to her house as the result of the chaos. After the arrest of four suspects, a group of residents marched to the police station demanding their release.”
Regarding Ramaphosa, the City of Cape Town says about 2,239 structures were built on land owned by the Housing Development Agency. The City did not have approval from the land owner to provide electricity as required by law.
The Victoria Mxenge Housing project, situated opposite Gugulethu, was established in 1992 and is driven by women. More than 5,000 houses were built and many are occupied by elderly women and pensioners.
Matolengwe describes certain residents of Ramaphosa as aggressive, abusive and violent. “They have beaten up and pointed guns at our young males of the same age who wanted to speak on our behalf,” she said.
Associate Professor Salma Ismail, from the University of Cape Town, said her involvement with the community dates back to 1992 when she was doing research on how they built their homes.
“My fear is that these women who saved and built their own homes could stand to lose them. They had already experienced losing their homes many times during apartheid. They have asked for assistance from the councillor and Nyanga Police unsuccessfully … With nowhere to turn to the women are left to deal with this themselves.”
Ramaphosa informal settlement leader Babalwa Siswana apologised for the crimes she said were committed by a mob of young men from the area last Thursday.
She said community leaders had tried to stop the young men from terrorising the women of Victoria Mxenge, but they had not been successful.
She said there were also problems with a group who had illegally connected electricity in Browns Farm, Philippi.
Most people in Ramphosa however use candles for lighting and fire for cooking.
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