Common man takes on De Lille over poverty
He dodged tear gas and rubber bullets, survived PW Botha and helped bring peace to the warring gangs of Manenberg. But Mario Wanza couldn't get within 5km of Cape Town's Rondebosch Common.
The former anti-apartheid activist was imprisoned last week for organising an illegal gathering in the heart of middle-class Cape Town - in a 40-hectare park better known for dangerous dog droppings than political battles.
Intending to draw attention to poverty, his arrest has turned him into a social movement celebrity and prompted a bitter war of words with Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.
De Lille says Wanza is a "failed politician" who is dividing Cape Town. He says De Lille has a personal vendetta against him and is failing the poor.
The common, in the shadow of Devil's Peak and Table Mountain, is a popular recreation area.
Wanza, who was on the march again yesterday at a legal demonstration organised by Cosatu, wants the common to become a rallying point for a nationwide social movement to narrow the gap between rich and poor.
He and his supporters are drawing attention to, among other things, forced evictions and the DA-run city's dire housing shortage.
Wanza warned that golf courses would be targeted next if authorities ignored the dire housing shortage in the city.
"We are telling you that the golf courses are going to have to go," he said.
Wanza claims to be the subject of a personal vendetta by firebrand mayor De Lille, whom he accuses of "DA divide-and-rule tactics". "She went on a tirade against me and said she will not allow us onto the common," said Wanza, 45, leader of the community organisation Proudly Manenberg.
In the drama last Friday, more than 40 people were arrested, with Wanza one of the first to be picked up while he was still in Manenberg. The protest had been declared illegal, but charges against everybody except Wanza have been dropped.
Said Wanza: "It is victimisation. The DA is consumed by the power of individuals."
Some protesters caught up in the fracas last week accused the authorities of criminalising what was meant to be a peaceful protest. "The police were rough. They treated us like animals," said Constance Adams. "We were seven [women] in one cell. I am a mother of four children and one grandchild. It was my first time in jail. It was a shock."
Police spokesman Colonel Andre Traut said last week's incident was "under investigation".
De Lille on Friday called Wanza a failed "would-be" public representative. She said her public comments about him had been provoked by his threat to "occupy" the common, an illegal activity. She supported the right to protest so long as it happened within the framework of the law, she said.
She questioned his struggle credentials, calling his tactics divisive and against the spirit of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front.
Many former UDF veterans, including ANC heavyweight Chris Nissen, lived near the common, she said, adding that Rondebosch was 70% non-white.
"There is definitely a political agenda. All the people from the UDF are also screaming and saying, 'who is this character [Wanza] who wants to come and imitate the UDF because the UDF is not about dividing people, it is about bringing people together'," she said.
De Lille denied the Rondebosch Common movement was an uprising against the DA, which won a record number of votes in the city in the last local government elections.
WHAT THE PEOPLE HAVE TO SAY:
RONDEBOSCH is a leafy neighbourhood in the heart of Cape Town. The area boasts large family homes and classic Victorian architecture. It was here that the first permanent title to land in the Cape was issued, under Jan van Riebeeck. The suburb's vast open common plays host to joggers, dog walkers, residents - and an uprising by civil society against inequality.
We asked people there what should happen to Rondebosch Common.
Soraya Mohammed: "They should keep it as a walking area for people. All the years we've been walking here, where do we go to now? I would appreciate it if they could fix the path for us."
Wardia Samaai: "If it was low-cost housing it would be nearer for people to travel. If people can maintain it and can pay for it, then why not? There are so many other places for people to walk. I just think why not?"
Tariq Jensen: "It should stay as it is. We've been running around here for many years. The fuss is probably politics."
Ra-Iq Moodley: "I think it should stay here. It's better for everybody."
Debbie Potgieter: "It is a beautiful landmark and reminds us of our history. There is a lot about the common that makes it sacred and valuable and it should be kept as such."