Picture by Michael Hilton Photography:- Smutsville residents took to the streets asking why their housing projects have been sidelined.
In the early hours of Monday 21 August, residents of Smutsville, Sedgefield, once again launched protest action against the Knysna Municipality. Whilst the sound of sirens, the crack of rifles firing rubber bullets and the deafening echoes of stun grenades caught many unawares, it had surely been only a matter of time before the protest happened, as the community at large claim they have been all but sidelined by Knysna’s Council.
Their biggest complaint is that the tens of millions of Rands in funding for housing projects in Ward 1 that were recorded on the municipal budget for the past two years do not appear on this year’s budget. This would seemingly render the hard work and input of numerous parties following the protests of June 2018 and March 2019 null and void. Further, the electrification program giving power to those living in informal structures has come to a grinding halt in Smutsville.
Though crowds had reportedly started gathering from 3.30 am on Monday morning, it was about 5.00 am when several fires were lit on Oestervanger Street – blocking the only vehicle access to Smutsville. The general message was that no one would be going to work that day, until the community had answers. SAPS members as well as members of local volunteer security organisations arrived to monitor the activity but didn’t engage. A while later, three armoured vehicles from the Public Order Police arrived on the scene, bringing in numbers of armed personnel in their riot combat gear.
The demonstrators gathered in their hundreds to stand and face the uniformed law enforcers. They called for Knysna Executive Mayor Aubrey Tsengwa to come and hear their demands. He arrived soon after 10.00 am and, along with his police escort, was quickly surrounded by the crowd. Individuals shouted questions and accusations at him, but without any form of sound equipment, it was not possible for the mayor to be heard above the clamour of angry voices. When he was finally handed a loud hailer he assured those present that the Smutsville housing projects had not been forgotten, stating “There is money for Smutsville!” a number of times. The mayor was asked to return to present the community with answers by Wednesday.
“We want a timeframe from him for our housing,” demanded one incensed lady, “And we want it on paper!”
Whilst it was comparatively peaceful as protests go – the presence of the Public Order Police no doubt making a difference – there was no mistaking the anger brewing among the residents as they watched Mayor Tsengwa depart.
Ward 1 Councillor Levael Davis, who was standing with his constituents, agreed that their concerns were valid. We asked for a statement which he duly sent later in the day.
“Our community has handed the mayor a memorandum of requests concerning a number of very important items. I have on numerous occasions, been vocal in the Council and in the media regarding two of these – housing and electrification,” he said.
“Sedgefield received very little from this year’s approved budget allocation. This is concerning because, over the last three years, much work has been done in this regard. In the 2022/23 financial year, provincial grant amounts of +R12 Million and +R26 Million were approved in the final MTREF budget for the outer years of 2023/24 and 2024/25, respectively (Appendix 3).
“This money is not reflected in this year’s budget which means that either the business plan has been changed in favour of other areas or projects, or the money removed due lack of project progress, slow, or non-spending.
“Having no provincial grant allocation captured in the final budget means that there is simply no money committed for housing this year. This question needs to be addressed honestly by the mayor.
“On the question of electricity, I have consistently bemoaned the fact that Smutsville has received no INEP (Integrated National Electrification Program) funding for this year, even though we applied like every other Ward. Other Wards have received millions again, but nothing for Smutsville. These are the questions I think our community needs answers for.”
Asked for feedback, Mike Hofhuis of COP reported that whilst the day of the protest was predominantly peaceful, it seemed that certain juveniles were determined that it should not remain so.
“By late afternoon, when it seemed that all was said and done, POPS stood down, leaving COP members to monitor the situation from a distance,” he explained, “Within 10 minutes of the departure of the large POP personnel vehicles, juveniles had erected three barricades about 15m apart along Oestervanger Street, and a fire was started on the same road, adjacent to USave.”
He said Knysna’s Crime Prevention Unit was quickly called in and as soon as they arrived the youngsters fled in every direction.
“When the SAPS members gave chase, the juveniles began throwing stones, and a running battle continued until about 9 pm when the youngsters went home. A fire was started at the top of the stairs over the dune, but the fire department who had been on standby were able to extinguish it quickly,” he reported.
COP also kept the community at large informed of the protest through the various safety and security WhatsApp groups, letting residents know of any potential danger spots.
By Tuesday morning it seemed everything had returned to normal, and it was still so at time of going to press. No confirmation of a date for the Executive Mayor’s return has been received as yet.