A war between the beneficiaries of a land claim just outside Polokwane saw violence escalating over the past week with shacks being destroyed, possessions being burnt and stolen, and two men being hospitalised after one was shot and the other beaten.
The area under dispute is known as Mamahule 100LS.
Polokwane Observer was escorted into the area on Monday by several beneficiaries as well as those who have lost their homes, some 100 people.
In order not to endanger the lives of those involved, Polokwane Observer was requested not to identify them.
According to a beneficiary who is also vice chairperson of the board of trustees the land claim was granted and ownership of the property in question is jointly owned by several claimants.
A board was formed in order to protect the interests of all the beneficiaries, he explained.
“But the beneficiary who was chairperson at the start decided that as chairperson the land belonged to him. He started selling stands to people and pocketing the money. He is no longer a committee member,” the beneficiary alleged.
In the meantime, the current chairperson of the board gained approval from the board to allocate some stands to some homeless families.
“We approached the committee at Juju Valley, Seshego knowing that there were people for whom they could not find a stand at Juju Valley as it was already full there,” the vice chairperson explained adding that some 100 people could be accommodated at Mamahule 100LS where they could build their shacks.
Now, months later, the former chairperson of the board seemingly decided that he also wanted the stands on which these shacks were built.
According to the vice chairperson, several beneficiaries and the people who were granted permission to build their shacks there, the situation careened out of control on 14 February when there was a confrontation between the two beneficiary groups, which resulted in one man allegedly being shot. According to the victim, although a Police case has been opened, no arrest has been made as yet even though he was able to identify the shooter.
Last Thursday, some 10 taxis arrived containing foreign men thought to be Zimbabweans who were allegedly armed to the teeth with weapons including several firearms, pangas and axes. Victims who spoke to Polokwane Observer said there was also a BMW containing some men who were allegedly armed with AK47s. The Police were summoned and duly arrived while the foreigners were allegedly breaking down shacks, destroying property and assaulting the residents. Women fled with their children frightened for their lives. Several victims alleged that the Police merely stood by and allowed matters to unfold. “They didn’t lift a finger to help us, and to make things worse, when the destruction was complete, they escorted the taxis out of the area and let them leave,” one victim said.
Some of the displaced people fled back to Juju Valley where they were afforded temporary accommodation. Others returned on Friday to try and salvage what they could. Over the weekend, the vice chairperson said, a senior Police official arrived and promised that the suspects would be arrested, some of whom live on the property in question and are family members of the former chairperson.
Also over the weekend some of the taxis returned and chased those still there away and burnt some of the property left behind.
People also went to open cases of damage to property at the Polokwane Police Station.
On Monday when Polokwane Observer was present, the situation flared up again. Two taxis could be seen where the remnants of the shacks are and soon several people fled from the people in the taxis. Once no more people were around, the taxis left. Two hours later, reinforcements arrived in the form of the shack dwellers who are temporarily being accommodated at Juju Valley.
The group was very angry and took up weapons including firearms, axes, hammers and stones and started towards the former vice chairperson’s home. As the group drew near, the vice chairperson and some of his family stood at the entrance and the group, advised by beneficiaries, came to a halt. Insults and threats were hurled from one group to another. Some of the displaced people further prepared themselves for a fight by making some petrol bombs.
Just as it seemed the situation was going to come to a head, Jossey Buthane, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Limpopo secretary, arrived on the scene.
Buthane was consulting with the vice chairperson when the Police made their appearance. A lengthy conversation between the parties ensued with the result that a senior Police officer explained that property could not just be destroyed and that a legal process should be followed. He also said arrests would be made regarding the damage to property as well as the shooting and assault.
The two warring groups then retreated from the area, however, shortly after the Police left, members of the former chairperson’s group allegedly went and burnt more possessions that had been left behind.
Speaking to Polokwane Observer yesterday (Wednesday) Buthane made it clear that his involvement was in his personal capacity and had no connections with the EFF. “I have assessed the situation and as far as I can see the Police are taking sides instead of being objective. This can’t continue as it is perpetuating the situation which could end in loss of lives,” Buthane said. The victims of the shooting and the assault as well as those who lost their homes said they were angry that the Police seemed to be taking sides and not bothering to investigate the cases opened or make any arrests. Allegations of bribery were also made.
On the scene the former chairperson declined to comment on the matter.
Provincial Police Spokesperson Moatshe Ngoepe confirmed the incidents with Polokwane Observer journalist RC Myburgh and said the Police were on the scene to monitor the situation. He further said no cases of injury or fatalities were reported. “The cases that were opened in this regard will be investigated and further action taken where indicated,” he said.
Story: KAREN VENTER