There were mixed emotions in the Hermanus Magistrate’s court on Friday during the bail application of 11 people who were charged with public violence after the land related protests that rocked Hermanus at the end of March.
On the one hand there were tears of joy after seven of the accused were released on bail of R300 each and four were released on a warning, while on the other hand business owners said they were still reeling from the economic impact that forced many businesses to close with a resultant loss of millions of rand’s worth of business.
According to community leader Sicelo Gxamesi the residents of Zwelihle are jubilant about the court’s verdict. “This is good news and we now await the bail hearing of the rest of the people who were arrested,” he said in a social media post. In total 69 people were arrested, of whom two were released after a quick court appearance. The remaining 67 have been divided into three groups – the 11 people who were in court on Friday, a second group of 27 accused who are to appear in court on 18 April, and a third group of 29 accused who are to appear in court on 19 April.
Hamish Hofmeyr, representing the Hermanus Business Chamber testified in court on Friday that the economic impact of the protest is still being felt by business owners. “Not only were many businesses forced to close during the protests due to a shortage of staff, but several others sustained losses due to damage.
“Several businesses in the industrial area had to close their doors for safety reasons, while Walker Bay Recycling was set alight, Nissan’s showroom windows were destroyed, and Build it had to close for two days. Many employees were prevented from going to work, resulting in understaffed businesses that could not function properly. The protests also affected the delivery of stock to businesses,” he said.
According to Hamish the hospitality industry, which is the backbone of the local economy, suffered heavy losses because of the inability to trade and the fact that some visitors cancelled their Easter holiday plans to Hermanus.
Cape Whale Coast Tourism Manager Frieda Lloyd said trade during the Easter weekend and the school holiday was marginally affected. “Some restaurants referred to the Easter trade as a second Christmas, while others reported their best Easter weekend figures yet,” she said.
In contrast some businesses in the CBD have indicated that trade over the last few weeks have dropped by as much as 40% compared to last year and some of them are concerned about their financial viability during the winter season.
“There were plenty of feet but simply fewer sales. The impact of the lost trading days and visitors cancelling their plans have a direct impact on the tourism related businesses first. The diminished income results in less spending by these businesses and their employees and that in turn affects us,” said a trader in town.
Burning issues after protests still need to be resolved
The impact of the protests last month in Hermanus and those last year in Kleinmond has left residents with several contentious issues that have created a flurry of activity on especially social media.
These issues include the punishment for those arrested on charges of public violence, the loss of income for businesses, the loss in wages for employees, conservation versus the need for housing and the divisive question of the prevalence of racism in our area.
It is of interest to note that community leaders in Zwelihle have made it clear that protest action was related to land issues and not in any way politically motivated. Leader Gcobani Ndzongana said the question of land in the Overstrand surpasses the role of political parties in the area. “We simply want land. It is not a complicated issue. We are as much residents of the Overstrand as anyone else and for many years our cries for help have been ignored. We took a stand to say enough is enough and we got the attention of the authorities, who are now working together with us to create solutions to the problems we face,” he said.
This follows the Economic Freedom Fighters last week distancing themselves from the events. A resident of Zwelihle who opted to remain anonymous said if you looked at the protesters the absence of political party T-shirts was conspicuous. “We are not interested in the politicians, they are full of empty promises. What we want is land not promises, we cannot erect houses on promises.”
Gcobani said in an interview that they are happy with the current progress made to identify land for backyard dwellers. “All residents of Hermanus can be assured that there will be no more protests as long as we get our land.”
But while community leaders in Zwelihle have indicated that they are happy with the current developments regarding the provision of land for backyard dwellers, several conservation lobbyists have said that the possible destruction of Milkwood trees is problematic. This follows the proposal by the Municipality of using land in Schulphoek next to Zwelihle for the establishment of housing as well as a sports centre.
“We have sympathy for the people who are landless, but it is our job to protect the environment and therefore we will closely follow the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study and comment on it. We understand that it might not be possible to save all of the Milkwoods at Schulphoek, but we will ensure that any development has as little impact as possible on our natural resources,” said Whale Coast Conservation Communication Manager, Anina Lee.
Leslie Viljoen of Cavcor Property Group, who owns the Schulphoek site, said they are poised to start with the development of a luxury housing estate next to the ocean. Part of the sale agreement is that the developer will be responsible for the construction of a road linking Church Street with Schulphoek Road. The realignment of this road will create the necessary space for the development of more housing in Zwelihle.
Viljoen said the group has been in negotiations with regards to the sale of the land, but no transaction has been concluded. “When construction on the development starts the construction of the road will also start,” he said.
Municipal Director of Infrastructure and Planning, Stephen Müller said at a presentation last week that an EIA and public participation process will need to be completed before any work can start. “Should it be necessary to remove any Milkwood trees, we need to receive a permit for each one that will be removed. There is no blanket permit from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries that allows for the removal of protected species,” he said.
Social media pages have also been abuzz with posts regarding racism in Hermanus, in many instances forcing administrators to delete posts or restrict comments due to their derogatory nature.
Resident Barbara Hayn wrote: “I have thought long and hard about whether to post this but also think that without dialogue and truth there can be no progress. I want to help, I want to be involved but do I really understand what that means? Over the last week or so I have received friend requests and have become increasingly uneasy. Yesterday I received a friend request from someone who has a profile picture of a burning car, another from a person who talks of the EFF in their posts and then I felt it… fear. The fear that divides us. The fear because I want to understand but I truly don’t, the fear created because I am naive. I want to stand hand-in-hand with the people that ask for land, but I hesitate because I fear being exposed to a riot. At every turn I realise that I am afraid of what I don’t know. The person who sent me the friend request with the profile picture of the burning car… I don’t know how to be your friend. Will this mean I support riots? What does your profile picture mean? Is this politics?
“So here I am, this naive white woman afraid of which direction to go in because of the actions of a few. I heard the singing as the protests were happening at the court. How beautiful the sound, what incredible unity, you have my respect. I am faced with the division amongst my own race too. The whites that still don’t try to understand. I debate with them, argue with them but cannot reason with them and then feel ashamed as I realise that my fear still creates the division with other cultures. I humble myself and ask you, how do we heal?”
In response Gcobani Ndzongana said: “Once upon a time I had an opportunity to be invited to a racism dialogue in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, it was organised by the Overstrand Training Institute and it involved Hemel-en-Aarde Valley farmers. My point was that, racism is a sickness, it is caused by fear of unknown. I suggested that racists do not just need condemnation but psychological assistance because inferiority complex is a contributing factor to racism. The racist sometimes feels small and intimidated, the racist thinks intimidating others is a solution and they sometimes use racism for confidence.”
‘There is a difference between racism and exclusion’
“I maintain, it is politicians who are failing to deal with racism. The sentence of (Vicki) Momberg is not a remedy to curb racism. A remedy is to understand why Momberg behaved in the manner she behaved. What is the contributing factor to her behaviour? I personally believe racism is a mental sickness and it needs mental health intervention.”
Gcobani said in an interview that he does not view Hermanus as a racist place. “Racism is rife in the Free State, but in Hermanus there is very little racism. People need to understand that there is a difference between racism and exclusion. Black people in Hermanus are being excluded and that is why we had to make our voice heard.
“I am positive about the future of the Overstrand, but we need to start understanding one another. There needs to be dialogue and compassion. People can differ from each other, but they need to understand where the other is coming from,” he said.
Facebook user Annemarie Kotze asked what can we practically do to eradicate the barrier between rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged? “I do not suggest that I necessarily have the answers. I would just like to know what can practically be done to eradicate socioeconomical barriers in the short term without burning down a beautiful town?”
Fikiswa Gxams posted in response: “This is what’s on my mind when I woke up thinking about what really happened few days ago. As we were walking back to our house from Zwelihle during the riots many cars stopped, offering to help and it was white people. Some were offering us places to stay or sleep. When they found out that we are safe they asked if there are people who needed help. They offered to pick those people up somewhere and give them places to sleep. The moral of this story is the message I got that in all races you meet good and bad people. “Those people didn’t even introduce themselves, so it showed they were doing it from the bottom of their heart. People nowadays do things to benefit attention and for photos. It was different cars that stopped at different times and days. That alone shows humanity. The colour of your skin means nothing.
“Can we start or continue appreciating one another day by day? Can we be like our kids at school who are happy when they see each other and start hugging before they disappear to play? It’s good to know the history but better to live the present. Remember love is important.”