I am perturbed by the increase in the number of attacks on City of Cape Town firefighters and infrastructure in the last six months.
We witnessed one of the most blatant instances when residents of Siqalo attacked firefighters responding to an incident in November last year. The delay resulted in 15 structures being destroyed by fire instead of the four that were alight when the Fire and Rescue Service teams arrived.
What appeared to be an isolated incident at the time has subsequently escalated into an untenable situation. Between 1 January and 4 April 2016, we recorded at least 17 incidents in Klipheuwel, Khayelitsha, Retreat, Vrygrond, Dunoon, Elsies River, Manenberg and Nyanga where Fire and Rescue vehicles were stoned, forcing staff to retreat from the areas in question and robbing residents of a potentially lifesaving service.During the incident in Elsies River in March, firefighters were responding to vehicles set alight during a protest sparked by the funeral of a gang member in the area. One of our staff members was hit by a stone and sustained a shoulder injury as a result.
In Mfuleni just weeks later, a number of firefighting vehicles were damaged as protestors vandalised the building and threatened staff on duty. As a result of that incident, we had to move operational staff out of the area and dispatch them from Belhar.
However, far more sinister and malicious have been the nearly a dozen incidents – most of them in Imizamo Yethu and Masiphumelele (see below) – where crews have had fire hoses cut or taken at knife-point or have been physically attacked while they’ve been on the fire line.
|17 October 2015||Masiphumelele||Branches (nozzles) taken from the crews, stones thrown and hoses cut|
|12 November 2015||Hout Bay||Branches (nozzles) physically taken from the fire crews and hose cut|
|7 December 2015||Masiphumelele||Crews blocked from entering by residents and stones thrown|
|26 December 2015||Hout Bay||Crews being physically attacked and branches (nozzles) taken from crew|
|12 January 2016||Masiphumelele||Driver held at knife-point and hoses taken away from crew|
|6 February 2016||Masiphumelele||Unruly crowd and stones thrown at crews on fire line|
|12 February 2016||Masiphumelele||Crews physically attacked, branches (nozzles) taken and hoses cut|
|27 February 2016||Hout Bay||Unruly crowd, bottles thrown at crew and hoses cut|
|13 March 2016||Masiphumelele||Crews threatened at knife-point on fire line and stones thrown at crew|
|7 April 2016||Vrygrond||Hoses taken from crew and crowd interfering with operations|
In what universe does anyone prevent a firefighter from doing their job and saving lives and property, unless that person has an agenda? Could it be linked to ongoing battles over land and housing, or the disaster relief that the City distributes (we are the only administration in the country to do so)?
While some protestors might enjoy their new favourite pastime of attacking our firefighters, the impact on service delivery cannot be overstated. Damaged vehicles and injured firefighters mean that there are fewer resources to respond to fires and other incidents. When we have to close a fire station for any amount of time as a result of damage or threats to staff, it delays the response to any incidents that occur during that closure when resources have to be dispatched from other areas. When residents physically prevent firefighters from doing their jobs and force them to leave the area, they are placing lives and property at risk.
Organising armed escorts for firefighters who are under threat in volatile situations or areas means that we are pulling crime-fighting resources from areas where they’re needed most and creating an enforcement deficit.
The Constitution guarantees the right to protest, but the level of violence and destruction that have become commonplace in so many instances, along with the unprecedented attacks on rescue and emergency services, cannot be tolerated or allowed to go unchecked.
I appeal to communities to show restraint and highlight their grievances without resorting to violence, threats or intimidation of the very people who risk their lives on a daily basis in service of others.