‘This is war’: 28 houses torched as villagers clash over boundary
Call for government to intervene after Eastern Cape villagers flee into the hills with no cellphone coverage or food
Frightened residents of two warring villages in the Lusikisiki area of the Eastern Cape are fleeing to the mountains after 28 homes were torched over the weekend.
Two people have also been left wounded after they were shot at. The police in the area have confirmed this, saying they have planned for more police visibility in the area.
The fight is over a boundary area between the Zitha and Scembeni villages.
According to local traditional leader Chief Sonwabile Jama, the fights started when one of the families from Sicembeni village built a house on a strip of municipal land close to Zitha in April 2017.
The Zitha villagers were allegedly not happy, and started to complain, asking the family to move the house. They allegedly refused.
Jama said this never came before their traditional courts to be resolved, and peace brokered between the villages was shortlived after they came to blows again at the weekend.
Msinselwa Mshibilili, one of many people who lost their homes over the weekend, is among those seeking refuge in the mountains with his children and grandchildren.
He lost five homes.
“My houses have been torched by people who are fighting with us. Today I’ve lost everything I treasured and I have nothing to feed my children and family. My children are crying and they can’t even go to school,” said Mshibilili.
“I don’t even know when we are going back to our village and start rebuilding.”
Mamquthelwa Zoko also had to flee to safety after she was allegedly threatened by neighbouring villagers.
“I was threatened that my house will be burnt and I had to run for my life, with just what I was wearing. I am currently at my brother’s house in another village as I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said.
Resident Patsy Fearick said children as young as 10 had to run for their lives. “This is bad. We need government intervention in this situation. The people are at risk. This is scary and we can do little to help. Many are up in the hills and they don’t have any cellphone coverage or food to eat.”
She said a number of pupils were struggling. “Last week they started classes to catch up and the next thing this started again. We have a lost a generation of matriculants thanks to parents who can’t stop fighting.”
Mkhankomo Full Service School principal Zuko Lurwengu said the situation was bad. “Not a single child attended school today [Tuesday]. This is a war and we are worried because this is affecting the kids.” Call for peace
Ingquza Hill Local municipality mayor Pat Mdingi said his people were hiding in the mountains. “We are calling for peace and we need these warring communities to resolve this immediately before a life is lost.”
Resident Xolisile Sikonza said the latest incident started after a fight at a concert held in one of the villages. He said he had warned police not to allow the concert to take place.
“The situation here is very tense and I went to the police to ask if they can stop this concert as I suspected that it would lead to this war. I was ignored, the party went on and the next thing people started fighting and burning people’s homes,” he said.
He said this would continue if there was no intervention. “It’s not safe for people and schoolgoing kids either.”
Mdingi said local traditional leaders needed to work with the community. “They need to make sure that there’s peace here, not fighting.”
Eastern Cape acting police commissioner Major-General Thembeka Dyantyi said they strongly condemned the violence and arson incidents and those responsible.
“We appeal to the community and the fighting factions to consider other ways to solve this impasse while other amicable ways are explored instead of bloodshed and destruction of property,” said Dyantyi.
During an altercation last month, six houses were also torched by angry residents.
“Two people aged between 52 years and 57 years were shot and treated at a local hospital, and public order policing members have been deployed to stabilise the situation in the area,” said Dyantyi.
Cases of attempted murder, arson and malicious damage to property had been opened and were being investigated.
“No suspects have been arrested thus far but the SAPS are monitoring the situation.”
On Monday, Lusikisiki cluster commander Brigadier Vukile Ntandane and his management also visited the affected area.
“Several discussions have been conducted with other stakeholders with the aim to find a solution to the challenges,” said Dyantyi.