Bitou Council calls for urgent action against protests in Qolweni, Newsline

CAPE TOWN – The Bitou municipal council in the Western Cape has condemned the housing protest by the community of Qolweni, an informal settlement that borders the industrial area of Plettenberg Bay.

“The sporadic unrest in this community has a negative impact on the entire Plettenberg Bay and motorists passing through our town on the National highway. This town, like many others across the country, is trying to recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19 and can ill afford such negative blows on its economy,” the municipality .

“We are particularly concerned about the ongoing damage to property and businesses. The safety of people living in the Qolweni community and surrounds who are not involved in the riots and that of businesses in the surrounding industrial area has to be secured”.

In August 2019, through the interventions by the Human Rights Commission, a platform for engagement between the Qolweni Community and the Bitou Municipality was created to facilitate open, honest and effective engagements between these parties regarding the Qolweni Housing Development, amongst others.

Since this platform was established, the Bitou Municipality has had several engagements with the leadership of the Concerned Residents of Qolweni and the leadership was invited to several high profile meetings with key stakeholders, the council said.

“There have been several report back meetings with the community of Qolweni and the Bitou Municipality has sent high-level delegations to some of these meetings in order to report on progress and address potential areas of conflict.

It is a concern that these unrests have violent and criminal elements to them, and these threaten the lives and properties of residents of this town.“

At a meeting on 9 October 2020 at the Council Chamber, attended by representatives of the Local SAPS Management, Garden Route Municipality Disaster Management, Bitou Municipality, and a local attorney (Perino Pama), the council said it was noted that:

1. The N2 and the Industrial Area are our most precious assets. The unrest has a negative impact on the growth potential of these towns and is destabilising our town to the extent that urgent short and long term solutions are required.

2. A letter to the National Minister of Police, Minister Bheki Cele, will be sent immediately. The letter will be calling for high-level intervention;

3. The Western Cape Department of Safety and the Garden Route District Municipality will also be approached to provide support;

4. A local Public Order Policing presence needs to be established between Bitou and Knysna because these unrests mostly happen without warning and when POPs arrive on the scene it is almost too late.

5. SAPS needs to ensure that the TRA is secured because there are already attempts to vandalise these units and should these be successful it will further delay the project.

6. There needs to be engagements with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the local Prosecutors with regard to the prosecutions of persons involved in sporadic violent unrest.

7. SAPS needs to be more vigilant in dealing with the perpetrators of these attacks. The police officers present undertook to take this up at the highest level; and

8. The formation of a Mediation forum headed by an experienced independent person that has a record of accomplishment in conflict management. The forum will have to include credible and elected leaders from communities and institutions within Bitou.

“It is important that the Qolweni community appoint leaders that are representative to serve on this forum,” the council said.