‘Ons soek huise’: Suurbraak march for housing

This report gives you a taste of the day as it happened and is divided into three sections:

  1. The march itself
  2. Shortly after the march ended
  3. Handover of the letter of demand

For commentary on the day please go to: Suurbraak rolling mass action: a commentary

1. The march itself

The organisers of Sunday’s protest march in Suurbraak (14 May 2017) were the SYM (Suurbraak Youth Movement chaired by Donovan Julius) and the SCA (Suurbraak Civic Association chaired by Burton Beukes). Both these organisations can feel justly proud of what they achieved. Apart from one troubling incident, about which I’ll report below, the march was efficiently managed and executed.

The organisers amassed an impressive Suurbraak-style turnout comprising children, young men and women, middle aged and the elderly following in cars, bakkies and on a truck. In fact I felt quite sorry for the kids who must have been forbidden by their parents to take part and who watched the passing cavalcade with longing.

Click on the window below in order to see footage of the march.

2. Shortly after the march had ended

After the protesters had completed their route there was a general milling around with attempts by the organisers at maintaining the focus of protesters. Whether it was spontaneous or engineered I cannot say but at one point the protesters en masse started chanting the name of a community leader with whom they seemed to be at odds. This combustible incident, which I intentionally didn’t capture on video left me troubled.

3. Handover of the letter of demand to an official of Swellendam Municipality

The march culminated in a handover of a list of demands by Burton Beukes, chair of the recently created Suurbraak Civic Association (SCA)

Click on the window below in order to see part footage of the handover. Below is a translation


This is the message which I have sent to the (Swellendam) Council (or Municipality, as in raad). OK this comes from the Suurbraak Civic Association or the abbreviation SCA, and the letter is dated 14 May 2017 and addressed to Municipal Manager, Swellendam Municipality, Swellendam, 6740. The heading is Suurbraak Community.

The above organisation with the support of the overwhelming majority of the resident of Suurbraak requests you within 14 days to investigate the demands of our community and to respond in writing or verbally within 14 days.

The Civic Association wishes first to inform you that:

  • we have noted that the mayor doesn’t really want to solve our problems (calls of assent from the protesters), we therefore choose not to negotiate further with the mayor as individual but, instead, with the full Council (assent)
  • the organisation is prepared to deliberate with the Council regarding our problems
  • in the meantime the organisation will continue preparing by deliberating with the Minister of Housing (assent), the Minister of Local Government and Traditional Affairs (assent), the Minister of Land (assent), the Human Rights Commission (assent) and Public Protection (openbare beskerming) (assent), public leaders (assent), national parliamentarians (assent), and the media (assent)
  • the mayor hasn’t divulged the whole truth in his open letter to the community of Suurbraak (‘exactly’ – from a member of the audience)

For a copy of the Myburgh’s open letter to the community in Afrikaans, click here]

  • the mayor regards the community or part thereof as un-Christian, seekers of attention (audience: ‘Yes’) and in his own words that sections of the community cannot think – in his words – as real human beings
  • that this action isn’t about certain individuals but about the community
  • the municipality hasn’t been prepared to negotiate with the organisation
  • the majority of the community supports the action of the squatters on Rousseau Plein and that they not be removed until the council has replied to this letter (list of demands) (“Viva squatters viva!”)

What follows is our list of demands of the Municipality:

  1. the municipality must come with a date when they intend upgrading the infrastructure (calls of agreement)
  2. that thereafter all planning with respect to housing be finalised so that the requests will reach the applicants (this bit was unclear to me). It be noted that the last houses to be built in Suurbraak happened more than 20 years ago (applause). That the people of Suurbraak have for years been marginalised and oppressed by the Apartheid government (agreement), and that the community’s sense of self-worth can only partially be regained through the basic right of housing. We draw your attention to the fact that the waiting list now stands at 520 – an unbelievable number for such a small community. In fact this is more than the existing number of house in Suurbraak (agreement). That Council must inform the community what the eligible age for housing is: 40, 35 or 18 (calls for 18!)
  3. that a sub-committee of the Council be formed to work with the SCA to investigate the financing of the (Suurbraak) plantation. We reject the contention that the Council (Municipality) is not responsible for repaying these funds to the community (for the harvested trees). The Municipality is therefore legally obliged to honour undertakings of the previous Municipalities particularly taking into account that the plantation was harvested twice. In this regard, the SCA has in its possession a letter written by a previous municipal manager in which he acknowledged that the community of Suurbraak is owed more than R900K by the Municipality (of Swellendam). (“Pay back the money!” chant led by Beukes)
  4. that the Municipality must investigate the demand (opdrag) for a Youth Centre. The SYM will supply data in support of this dream. It is pointed out that the only facility available to the youth is the Suurbraak Community hall which is too expensive for functions (agreement). In the meantime, therefore, the SCA asks that in the meantime the Municipality provides the Community Hall free of charge (agreement)
  5. that the rates for the Suurbraak Community Hall be lowered for the community. The SCA reminds the Municipality that, technically speaking, the hall was handed over to us (ons) by a previous government department in terms of a previous dispensation (agreement). In the view of the community a permanent worker is not necessary in the hall and that the task can be handed to two (currently) unemployed women (agreement) for a day or two or when necessary [the last bit was drowned by calls from the crowd, followed by Beukes addressing the assembled company: “Let me clarify that we have nothing against oom George but one person is not necessary. Oom George can still do other jobs.” – agreement)]
  6. that the Municipality halts all further construction across the river (oor die rivier) until the legality of the construction work is investigated by the Municipality with the assistance of the SCA. We wish to point out to the Municipality that the current or previous Municipality or Municipalities unilaterally changed the zoning of the land from Agricultural to Residential for the purposes of Agricultural purposes. [The next section which wasn’t all that clear to me seems to point to a document which an official from the Municipality provided them which speaks to the zoning across the river] That the SCA points out that there’s a big difference between a residential area and what is contained in what the aforementioned document proposed. The SCA has also investigated similar documents from other Municipalities. That all further sale of land (across the river?) by the Municipality and the Community be halted until legislation around the transformation of agricultural areas has been completed. The SCA points out that this decision or demand has twice before been made by the community in community meetings with the Municipality

[Unfortunately at this point my camera card indicated that it was full. An emailed request to Beukes for a copy of his letter went unanswered.]

Images taken during the protest

What follow are the images of Sunday’s protest arranged into three categories.

The march

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

The march (more images)

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

The march (and more)

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

Shortly after the march had ended

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

The handover

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

This report forms part of a series that documents the rolling mass action in Suurbraak and attempts to understand the causes and should be read in conjunction with:  Suurbraak rolling mass action: a commentary.

Previous posts include:

My intention in covering these protests is to see things as they are. Please, therefore, suggest corrections or alternative interpretations in the comment box.

One thought on “‘Ons soek huise’: Suurbraak march for housing”

  1. I see that. I misunderstood thr situation to a certain extent – they have indeed contacted the minister as well as the councils.

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