Woodcutters bump heads with ACSA over access to land

Wood cutters Carlos Cassiem, Arthur Thomas, Zahier Christians, Chad Hoffman, Marvin Ontong and Sergio Cupido. In the background, on the right, are ACSA security and a security vehicle.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), owner of the plot of land along Swartklip Road, between Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha, has started curtailing access to woodcutters and the public.

Spokeswoman Deidre Davids said this was done to ensure the safety of those working the site and to protect the site itself.

She was responding to questions from the Plainsman, after woodcutters, living across the road, were barred from the site in recent weeks.

“We are aware that informal wood cutting practices have been taking place at the Swartklip site for some time.

“Initially, we were of the understanding that the informal wood cutters accessed the site to cut wood for sustenance purposes, a matter with which we have no objection to.”

However, she said, over recent months it had become apparent that some of the wood cutters were selling the wood and in-fighting seemed to have arisen over territory on the site.

Ms Davids said this situation escalated during December last year, when there were violent incidents involving the wood cutters and security staff.

According to ACSA, some wood cutters maliciously damaged the security patrol vehicle with a chainsaw and also hurled a petrol bomb at the patrol vehicle.

“These actions were of serious concern to the team and from our perspective, posed a significant risk. At the time we also noticed an increase of bush fires and were informed that in some instances the fires were caused intentionally,” she said.

She said they regretted the impact the access control had had on legitimate woodcutters, but that they had a responsibility to protect the site and its employees.

“We have had a meeting with the woodcutters to share with them our intent to formalise access to the site. We have asked them to share their inputs so that we can co-create a way forward that is safe for all involved,” said Ms Davids.

Wood cutter Carlos Cassiem, from Eastridge, said he was on site every other day to collect wood, sell it and then put food on the table for his family, for the past nine years.

“For the last two weeks we have been barred from the property, since they now have signage up, to ward off trespassers.”

He said they attended a meeting in December and had been warned that once the sign went up they would need permission to access the site.

“Our presence on site is of benefit to ACSA; we can clear the site for them and keep it safe,” he said.

Mr Cassiem said with wood cutters on site, they could clear vegetation and cover shiny objects with sand, which could spark a fire.

Marvin Ontong said when the bush fires happened they were held hostage in their homes because the road was closed and their windows and doors had to be closed to avoid inhaling smoke.

He said they would not intentionally set the bush alight because it was their livelihood.

“It is not in our interest to damage the property. We need to work there and we are afraid of violence.”

Mr Ontong refuted whether the wood cutters had harmed any staff on site or damaged property.

“We go in. Get the wood and get out,” he said.

A group of women, who also frequent the site, said some of them were single parents who needed the income.

A bakkie load of wood could bring in about R500, which would have to be split among six people.

Anyone with information about activities related to Swartklip can text or send a voice note via WhatsApp on 064 150 4467 or email swartklip@bepsa.co.za