Cape Town Rocked by Protests as Poor Communities Demand Housing

(Bloomberg) -- Protesters in Cape Town barricaded roads and torched several vehicles, the latest in a series of violent demonstrations by poor South African communities demanding access to state-funded housing and other services.

Demonstrators who gathered in Philippi suburb early Friday had been dispersed, while police were monitoring unrest in Gugulethu township and several roads had been closed, the city said. The protests appeared to be orchestrated and were almost certainly politically motivated, according to J. P. Smith, head of safety and security for the city’s mayoral committee.

“We have had a 73 percent increase in public violence since January,” Smith told Cape Talk radio. “It’s election season. Elections are anticipated as early as October this year. People are starting to spar.”

Cape Town, a coastal city of about 4 million people, is run by the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party. Protests have also erupted in several other areas, including Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital, over recent weeks.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took power in February when the ruling African National Congress forced Jacob Zuma to resign after a scandal-marred nine-year tenure, said he didn’t accept that the protests were aimed at destabilizing his administration or were being centrally coordinated.

“Many of the protests that have been happening are service-delivery driven,” he said in an address to the South African National Editors’ Forum on Thursday. “These are genuine concerns that we have to address.”

South Africa is due to hold elections around mid-2019, but there has been speculation that Ramaphosa may call an early vote to capitalize on a rebound in public support for the ANC after it removed Zuma from office, and disarray within the main opposition parties.

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