South African police demolish shacks in Cape Town, clash with residents

By Jenny Gross, AP
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Police demolish shacks in Cape Town, clashes erupt

JOHANNESBURG — People threw rocks and set fires, and police fired live ammunition and rubber bullets Tuesday during an effort to clear shacks from a Cape Town nature reserve, highlighting tensions over housing shortages in South Africa.

Police spokeswoman Tanya Lesch said 15 police officers and three civilians were injured in the standoff. The clashes left a corner of one of Cape Town’s most scenic areas, beneath upscale Hout Bay’s Sentinel Mountain, littered with rocks and debris.

City spokeswoman Kylie Hatton said 29 unoccupied shacks were cleared from a part of the reserve that is supposed to be a cordon to protect populated areas from brush fires.

The city wants to clear 54 another shacks that are home to as many as 200 people, but needs a court order to destroy occupied shacks, Hatton said. Hatton said the city wants to provide better housing for the shack dwellers, but that discussions with residents have stalled.

Nearly 3 million homes have been built since apartheid ended in 1994, but Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale has said another 2.1 million homes are needed.

In Johannesburg on Tuesday, experts previewed a form of low-cost housing that they described as an alternative to the drab, cheap and tiny houses that South Africa’s government has been providing the poor.

Officials gave tours of a two-story structure that they said took only 11 days to build. Later, they plan to move the building to a squatter camp in southern Johannesburg to serve as a community center.

Patrick Magebhula, president of the Federation of the Urban Poor — FEDUP — said he did not have an estimate of how much the community center cost to build.

Jackie Dugard, executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, said poor residents should have more say in what kind of housing they get, and where it is built.

“The government should plan with the people, not for them,” Dugard said. “The government will decide to build … a house in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not what the people want.”

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