ANC councillor: I'm a refugee in my own country

Jenna Etheridge, News24

Cape Town – When Paarl residents threw the first petrol bomb at ANC councillor Sonwabo Lumko’s home, he felt as though it could not really be happening.

"It was like watching a movie and standing in a dream. It happened so fast at the time, I was not scared," the 40-year-old told News24, describing the attack north-east of Cape Town on Friday night.

Just two hours earlier, residents had warned the Ward 14 councillor and his family to vacate his double-storey shack in Fairyland informal settlement.

The first petrol bomb failed to hit its mark, but the one shortly after hit the top floor and the structure burst into flames.


Some of his constituents had apparently been threatening him for a few weeks, warning him to leave the area.

Accusations flew thick and fast that he had used building materials from a local housing project for his own home.

Firmly denying this, he said: "Whatever happened at my house, nothing was illegal about it and I have got receipts to prove that I bought everything."

He said he had been prepared all along for provincial party leaders to investigate the matter.

He also believed the events were a concerted effort to remove him ahead of local government elections next year.

Fifteen people, including his wife and six children, were inside when a group arrived at his gate and stood silently. Stones flew before the petrol bombs.

As the fire slowly but surely started to infiltrate the structure, the occupants were torn between staying inside and running outside where the protesters were waiting.

Lumko felt the shack was going to collapse at any moment and decided to run outside towards the mob to distract them.

In hiding

His children used the opportunity to run out the house. Other relatives managed to escape through a back window soon after.

Provincial police said a house, two cars and a number of other shacks were burnt when approximately 200 residents marched illegally in the area over housing.

A 26-year-old man was arrested and charged with arson and public violence.

Lumko said he and at least 50 residents had since fled the area and were in hiding.

"I lost everything. I am homeless and have become a refugee in my own country," he said.

"I thought in South Africa that nobody is above the law, but it seems that some people are succeeding today [Wednesday]."

Housing project

Drakenstein Municipality condemned the violence and said there were proper platforms to air grievances.

Municipality spokesperson Mart-Marié Haasbroek said they had not received any formal memorandum over housing from the community.

Fire engines were stoned and an official’s windscreen was smashed, she added.

The provincial human settlements department said on Tuesday that it had experienced problems with the Siyahlala housing project, across from Fairyland, since allegations about Lumko emerged.

"The bigger issue is the backyard dwellers that are refusing to relocate to make available the sites for the top structure construction," said department spokesperson Nathan Adriaanse.

He said law enforcement officials had advised project staff to stay away from the site until order could be restored.

Of the project’s 243 units, 75 had already been handed over and six were due for handover on Tuesday.