Businesses are bleeding and the workers are suffering. The continuous protest action in the Overstrand must be ended before the economy is permanently crippled.”

That was the message from business owners to the Overstrand Municipality on Monday morning. A group of about 60 business people from Hermanus gathered at the municipal buildings to hand over a letter of grievances and demands to Municipal Manager, Coenie Groenewald.

Under the banner of the Concerned Community Forum (CCF) the group says the ongoing and substantial financial losses for both businesses and individuals who are prevented from working are not sustainable and unacceptable.

“The damaging and disruptive protest actions over the last few weeks have led to extreme insecurity in town regarding safety, stability and the economy. Intimidation of business owners, staff and the public, together with the damage to private, commercial and public property cannot be tolerated any longer,” said Marcel Matusik, a spokesperson of the CCF.

Hermanus and surrounding towns were once again paralysed by mass action on Monday with several businesses unable to trade due to a lack of staff. In Stanford violent protests rocked the small community while tyres were burnt and rocks were thrown at cars and school busses. This follows the protest action last week in Hawston and Gansbaai in response to the lack of housing and land in the Overstrand.

The protest action in Hermanus on Monday, however, was not about land or housing issues, but in solidarity with Zwelihle Renewal (ZR) leader Gcobani Ndzongana, who had to appear in court on charges of defamation of character. ANC Councillor Michelle Sapepa and community leader and previous member of ZR Masibulele Jimlongo claimed that Ndzongana defamed them during speeches held in Zwelihle. Ndzongana denied all the claims against him and the case was postponed.

At the time of going to press, the march was still peaceful, and the marchers dispersed at around 11:00.

According to the CCF’s letter, businesses have experienced serious losses on trade and income over the past few weeks. School activities have been disrupted and the good reputation of Hermanus has been tarnished.

“In our assessment the Overstrand Municipality has failed the residents of Hermanus by not implementing the necessary laws and bylaws to control backyard dwellers and illegal structures in various communities, and by allowing and abetting marches and protests to take place.

Extension on accounts for businesses?

“There has been poor spatial planning and the implementation thereof. The Municipality has not communicated effectively with residents regarding protest action and there is a lack of effective policing in conjunction with the SAPS. All interested and affected parties must be allowed to take part in the land debate meetings,” states the letter.

In his response, Groenewald said the Municipality is doing everything in its power to calm the situation and to make housing opportunities available to the various communities.

“Our hands are tied regarding the protest marches, as a Constitutional Court verdict gives people the right to hold a march without applying for a permit. In terms of law enforcement, our capabilities are stretched as far as they can go, and we work hand in hand with SAPS to ensure that all actions are as peaceful as possible.

“We are in constant negotiations with all the relevant parties and have also appealed to Helen Zille, Western Cape Premier, to become involved in assisting us. I am also meeting with representatives of the Provincial Special Task Force to investigate the many allegations of corruption in the housing department that have been levelled the past few weeks. I reiterate my call that any evidence of corruption must be brought to our attention as soon as possible and we will ensure that it is investigated,” Groenewald said.

CCF member Victor Sabbe said during the meeting with Groenewald that he has tried to open a case of intimidation at the local police station after an incident at his business where staff were ordered to leave the premises by protesters.

“The Police said they could only open one docket on all the incidents of intimidation in town on that day and they took down my name and details, but I have received no feedback from them, so in essence no case could be opened,” he said. Several business owners in town have indicated that they will be forced to close for the winter season because of their inability to trade. “I have a choice – either I close down and retrench some staff members or my businesses close their doors completely, in which case more than 150 people will lose their jobs,” one owner said.

In its letter to the Municipality the CCF asked that relief to ratepayers must be provided by extending terms on all municipal accounts to 90 days without penalties, interest or an increase in deposits. “This will give businesses time to recover from the negative financial impact of the last few weeks,” it stated.

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