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Soweto Residents, Protesting at Land Grab Bid, Clash With Police

FILE - A mother and child walk past corrugated iron left by residents who intended to build an informal settlement at an open land in Nellmapius township, 20 km (12 miles) east of Pretoria.

South African police clashed on Monday with residents in the township of Soweto who staged a protest after squatters tried to erect shacks in nearby fields — the latest of many flare-ups over the vexed issued of land

The central province of Gauteng, which includes Soweto, has witnessed several land grab attempts this year. Those responsible have been quoted by local media as saying they are fed up with unfulfilled government promises to build houses for the poor.

Millions of mostly black South Africans remain landless and homeless despite a house-building drive, fanning social tensions at a time when the ruling ANC party has signaled its intention to also seize white-owned land without compensation to redress racial imbalances.

On Monday, the land issue bubbled over in Soweto, the sprawling township near Johannesburg that was a focal point of anti-apartheid protests.

Police say residents in the working-class suburb of Protea Glen, who mostly live in modest houses, began burning tires and throwing stones at motorists in protest at the nearby land invasion, which occurred at the weekend.

"The residents have blocked the roads with rocks and burning tires they are saying they don't want people to build shacks in the open spaces there," said police spokesman Mbulaheni Netshivhodza. "...They want the mayor to come and address them and the situation is still tense."

Local TV channel eNCA broadcast live footage of police, who had removed the squatters at the weekend, firing rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.

According to government data, since the end of white rule in 1994 around 4.5 million low-cost homes have been built but this has failed to keep pace with soaring demand as rural migrants move to urban centers.