At least 11 people were arrested during a scuffle outside the construction site of the multi-million rand Western Mega Housing Project in Randfontein last week: Residents of the neighbouring Toekomsrus Extension 9 say they have been protesting for weeks, demanding to be given jobs at the construction site: But Police Minister Bheki Cele in a statement on 16 February noted the people arrested at the Randfontein housing project were part of a SAPS “takedown operation” against construction mafia.

By Kimberly Mutandiro

Tensions have been brewing in the community of Toekomsrus Extension 9 in Randfontein following the arrest of 11 people, including four teenagers, on 13 February. They are still in jail.

Residents, who have been protesting for jobs outside the construction site of the Western Mega Housing Project for a couple of weeks now, claim that some of the people were wrongfully arrested.

But Minister of Police Bheki Cele on 16 February stated that those arrests were linked to “takedown operations” by SAPS against alleged construction mafia who want a stake in the multi-million rand housing project in Toekomsrus.

According to community members from the Toekomsrus Extension 9 project, they have been protesting at the site since 8 February, demanding that they be given jobs.

The construction site is in a mostly coloured community where some of the 360 almost completed RDP houses were occupied in August 2023. Residents claimed there was a lack of transparency around the beneficiary list for the Toekomsrus Extension 9 project.

The Toekomsrus Extension 9 project residents say there has been no development for their benefit since 1994, while people in surrounding areas have received title deeds. Some say they have been approved for housing subsidies.

Furthermore the unemployed residents and members of the Randfontein Contractors Forum — which represents 160 small to medium businesses in the area — accused the ANC-led local government of depriving them of the 30% stake in ongoing mega housing construction projects in Randfontein.

Then on 13 February, a protest was held. Police were called. At some point, they started firing (presumably rubber bullets because no serious injuries were reported) at the protesters who had been camping outside the Toekomsrus project. A scuffle broke out and the 11 people were arrested.

Gauteng Police spokesperson Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi told GroundUp that on 13 February, members of Provincial Organised Crime responded to a complaint at a construction site in Toekomsrus. “Upon arrival, they found about 100 people and tried to engage with them. In the process, the project manager was assaulted, and one police officer was disarmed while another member was pelted with stones by the group,” he said.

“A group of 11 people were arrested after backup was called and the member’s firearm was found in possession of one of the protesters. All suspects aged between 19 and 47 appeared at the Randfontein Magistrates’ court on charges of assault, robbery, pointing of firearm and malicious damage to property,” said Nevhuhulwi.

The suspects are due back in court on 26 February 2024 for their bail application.

Community members claim that some of the teenagers who were arrested were not part of the protest.

“My son is only 19. He is innocent but was arrested. We are not even allowed to see him. They should release our children,” said Felicity Van Der Merwe.

Another resident, Isabelle Johnson, said: “Our children were nowhere near the site of the protest. They were four boys and they were picked up by police while on
their way to the ward councillor’s house, and the protest was long over.
My son is supposed to rewrite matric but now he is jail. At this point we do not know what to do to get them released.”

Tensions brew over alleged construction mafia

Tensions have been brewing in the community for the past two months over several housing projects being built, namely the Western Mega Project in Toekomsrus, Dan Tlome, Droogheuwel, and Montrose. We were told that 70 people from the area were given jobs there, but residents believe that this is not enough.

In a statement by Cele on the third quarter crime statistics released on 16 February, he noted the arrests “during a takedown operation” in Toekomsrus, Randfontein. “A group calling themselves the Toekomsrus Business Forum attempted to disrupt a R320-million housing project demanding a 30% stake in the project. The police’s swift response led to the arrest of these suspects with two firearms confiscated,” he said.

Angie Shelembe from the Randfontein Contractors Forum said Cele’s statement did not accurately represent the situation on the ground.

Shelembe denied Cele’s allegations that they are affiliates of a construction mafia.

“For the past three years, we have been begging, praying, fighting for the 30% due to us by legislation. The developer and main contractors bring their people from as far as Pretoria and Roodepoort to come squander wealth meant for the small and medium enterprises in Randfontein. Instead, the developer threatened us … We consulted the office of the speaker and the mayor for intervention but in vain,” she said.

Community liaison for the housing project, Collin Williams, said the area remains tense and that he had received threatening calls from unknown people since last week.

“As a liaison officer, it is my duty to empower our community. We have statistics to prove that about 70 people from Toekomsrus were hired for the project,” he said.

Questions sent to the Gauteng Human Settlements department last week were not answered by the time of publication. –

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