Madness in Grabouw

20 March 2012 - 02:27 By NASHIRA DAVIDS

The problem started at a school - too many Xhosa and Sotho children crammed into what was once a hostel - and exploded into a bloody racial war in the breathtakingly beautiful town of Grabouw.

A man badly beaten in confrontations between coloured and African residents of Grabouw, Western Cape, yesterday Picture: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS
A man badly beaten in confrontations between coloured and African residents of Grabouw, Western Cape, yesterday Picture: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS
A man badly beaten in confrontations between coloured and African residents of Grabouw, Western Cape, yesterday Picture: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS
A man badly beaten in confrontations between coloured and African residents of Grabouw, Western Cape, yesterday Picture: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS

Nestled in the Elgin Valley in Western Cape's Overberg, Grabouw is known as a commercial centre for the largest single-export fruit-producing area in Southern Africa.

But yesterday the rural town was the site of unrest that called to mind the raw and angry violence of apartheid South Africa.

Neighbours became enemies, to be pursued and attacked because of their race.

Residents - coloured and African - had initially planned to fill buses and taxis to stage a protest in Cape Town yesterday. They wanted more teachers and new premises for the overcrowded Umyezo Wama Apile School. They had just about had enough.

But in the dead of night, African residents had started mobilising, said a woman.

"We call it 'set up'. Tyres started burning and rocks were placed in the road. It was time. People were singing and the police came," she said with a grin.

"I tell you, we have plans. Next is the white school.

"But the problem is that this morning a coloured guy stabbed a black guy. We are going to speak to his parents tonight. We have elected three people to do so."

The woman had spent most of the morning with protesters, dodging tear gas sprayed into the crowd by police.

Just a few metres from the school, dozens of fires were lit and soon the air was dark with smoke.

"They don't care about us black people. I need a proper school for my child," said Thulani Maree, wiping sweat and tears from his face.

A few kilometres away, in the predominantly coloured area of Pine View, an African man lay screaming in pain. He had been stoned.

Dozens of incensed coloured residents gathered around him to hurl insults. "Ja, jou k****r [Yes, you k***ir]," screamed one.

"They underestimated us! They're going to die," screeched another.

Every time the man screamed in pain, the coloured crowd jeered and laughed.

"They, these blacks, came and burnt our children's school. Why? We waited for this school for so long. They must wait their turn," a burly woman said, to nods of agreement from neighbours.

The school she referred to is Groenberg Secondary. According to Western Cape MEC for education Donald Grant, three of its classrooms were vandalised and protesters tried to torch its storeroom yesterday morning.

After an ambulance took the man away, the crowd focused their attention on rumours that coloureds were being attacked and murdered.

"They're coming," a scream went up suddenly.

The mob ran towards Gaffley Road, a dirt road between the African and coloured communities.

Over the hill came dozens of African men, women and children, armed with sticks and chanting and shouting.

And up the hill moved their coloured neighbours. As the groups came face to face, stones filled the air, as did agonising screams.

There was blood.

Gunshots rang out as the clashes continued for almost an hour. From the top of hills countless people, including children, watched the battle unfold in the arena below.

Teargas from police finally ended it all.

The groups retreated, visibly exhausted.

But, warned Giulio Domingo, resting on his cane: "Tonight they are going to be back. Tonight it is going to start again."

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