Cape Town - Firefighters who rushed to a shack fire in Khayelitsha early on Sunday came under attack from residents. This was the latest in a string of attacks on rescue and law enforcement personnel in the city.
The firefighters were forced to retreat when residents in the Taiwan settlement hurled stones at them.
City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services spokesman, Theo Layne, said that earlier another team of firefighters had been returning from a call at a nearby railway station when they had noticed the smoke in Taiwan.
On arriving, they found the flames had been doused and radioed in the call to the control room.
Firefighters from the Lansdowne and Khayelitsha stations sent two fire engines, a water tanker, a rescue vehicle and 14 staff.
They reported that one shack was destroyed and a man had died, Layne said.
Then there was an updated report: “Members are being stoned, the area is not safe, require SAPS on scene.”
The rescuers retreated but returned shortly before 2am with police escorts to help retrieve the body.
Layne said damage to the fire vehicles was “minor” and none of the firefighters were injured, but the attacks were a big concern.
It was not clear why stones had been thrown
, he added.
He said that often in arson cases where people set the shacks alight or in service delivery protests, firefighters were not welcome.
“Sometimes it’s a case where the shacks were set alight and they don’t want us to put it out, or they say that we came too late - but when I follow up complaints about being late I usually find that people had dialled the wrong emergency numbers.”
Layne said stoning attacks did not happen that often.
The last attack occurred about three or four months ago in Bonteheuwel where firefighters were stoned during a service delivery protest.
However, he said, the attacks were having an affect on the morale of the firefighters.
“When things like this happen it puts you back a little - you tend to question why am I doing this? When I go out there to help the community and this is the thanks I’m getting?” Layne said.
He said that they held debriefing sessions for the officers who return from volatile situations and they would also refer the matter to the fire and life safety education team which did advocacy work in communities.
More recently, two metro police officers were reported to have been assaulted in Khayelitsha while rescuing two men from a vigilante attack.
The officers had reportedly arrived at BM Section to be met by a mob of about 150 residents - some with sticks and metal pipes.
They had been attacking a man the community had accused of house breaking. Police had reached one of the men when a man in the mob intervened and spurred everyone on. An officer attempted to disperse the crowd by firing a shot in the air.
The metro police officers were not injured during the incident.
Weekend Argus quoted metro police spokeswoman Yolanda Faro as saying communities were not turning against or targeting officers but they would “do anything to punish alleged criminals” - including attacking officers who attempt to defend them.
In May, the Cape Argus reported on paramedics being raped and robbed at gunpoint and lured into ambushes by hoax callers.
In March two paramedics were targeted while treating a drug-overdose patient in the back of an ambulance in Masiphumelele.
A group of men entered and pepper-sprayed the paramedics and robbed them. At the time, provincial ambulance chief Pumzile Papu said that there had already been three reported incidents this year.