File Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
File Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Smashed windows‚ broken glass and looted shops greeted residents of Mitchells Plain at dawn on Tuesday in the aftermath of a thwarted land invasion that turned violent in Cape Town.

Protesters set alight tyres and fired live ammunition at police in a tense standoff in the area on Monday.

Residents who said they were fed up with waiting for the city to provide them with proper housing‚ marked out plots at the weekend and erected structures in Woodlands.

It was a scene that has played out across the city in the past few weeks, and which has often ended in violent confrontation and the temporary closure of major roads.

Cape Town has experienced a surge in violent protests in 2018. There had been 145 incidents by mid-May, compared with 84 during the same period in 2017 — representing a 73% increase in protests.

Police identified 34 conflict areas. In the past week affected areas included Vrygrond‚ Parkwood‚ Bo-Kaap‚ Ocean View‚ Gugulethu‚ Macassar‚ Khayelitsha‚ Robert Sobukwe Road and 35th Avenue‚ Milnerton‚ Dunoon and Mitchells Plain.

Mayoral committee member for safety‚ security and social services‚ JP Smith‚ said on Monday that the city had asked the police to establish a priority committee to deal with protests.

"To discourage people from settling on land that is not suitable for human habitation‚ the Anti-land Invasion Unit removes‚ on average‚ 15,000 illegal structures and/or pegs per annum. However‚ in the first four months of 2018‚ that figure is standing at over 26,000‚" he said.

The city had a zero-tolerance approach to attempted land grabs, he warned. "Invaded land often jeopardises emergency and basic service delivery, and a variety of future projects to improve the living conditions of residents.

"Mostly‚ residents … are the ones who ultimately have to deal with extreme flood‚ fire‚ health and safety risks when settling illegally on land that has not been earmarked for human settlement.

"Vulnerable people are also often asked to pay for ‘plots’ by unscrupulous individuals. These ‘plots’ are in most cases unsuitable for any sort of settlement.

"Land grabs are also often followed by demands for the installation of underground and other services, which could impede the planned upgrade of informal settlements in other areas."

The city had earmarked more than R850m for informal settlement upgrades and incremental development programmes‚ excluding the additional funding allocated to formal housing projects‚ he said.

Private owners of open tracts of land were advised to "take all reasonable steps" to protect their property from being invaded.

Smith said hundreds of police and city law enforcement officials had been deployed to deal with the protests.

"While we have yet to quantify the damage‚ it is safe to say that it runs into tens of millions of rand."

At least 115 people were arrested during the protest action.

"We respect the right of communities to protest. Legal protests are approved by the City daily.…

"However‚ the destruction of public property and infrastructure, and placing the lives of others at risk, can never be justified and can never be defended.

"The looting of businesses during protests amounts to nothing more than simple criminality."