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The BBC's Greg Barrow
"Many were armed with sticks and spears, prepared to resist the local council's efforts."
 real 56k

Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 15:39 GMT
SA police and squatters clash

Police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas
By Greg Barrow in Johannesburg

Squatters clashed with police in a suburb of Johannesburg on Tuesday over a relocation plan in scenes reminiscent of the apartheid era.

The squatters live in an area of Alexandra township which is next to a polluted river and the local authority fear that it could be a source of cholera.

They are forcing us to move.

Alexandra resident
The people living next to the river did not want to be relocated and accused the authorities of using excessive force.

The South African Government is currently trying to curb a cholera outbreak which has already killed 100 people.

Running battles

For a few hours, more than 100 demonstrators carrying sticks and spears blocked a main road running beside the township.

Stones were thrown and police responded by firing rubber-coated bullets and tear gas.

The local council has signaled its intention to bulldoze all the shacks and rudimentary houses that have been built along the edge of the Jukskei River.

It has offered to move the residents to locations in other townships like Soweto. But some may have to live in tents for several months until their new houses are built.

One squatter complained that "they [the authorities] are forcing us to move. They did not even give us any notice and the new place they are taking us to does not have water or toilets."

Old times

Community groups say the council is behaving like the old apartheid authorities which forcibly removed black communities from white areas.

They say that the residents have lived in the settlement for 20 years and they were not consulted over the move.

The fact that Alexandra township lies adjacent to one of the richest white suburbs in Johannesburg has only reinforced this feeling among those being moved away from the river.

Police say they believe illegal immigrants who have most to lose if the removals go ahead are leading the demonstrations.

Although the council has promised to rehouse anybody who agrees to the relocation, foreigners will not qualify for free housing.

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01 Jan 01 | Africa
Thousands hit by cholera
12 Jan 01 | Africa
Cholera in South Africa spreads
09 Nov 00 | Africa
SA 'racist attack' police in dock
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: South Africa
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