Cape Town - The Cape Town city council says it will not tolerate land invasions, vowing to continue doing “everything in our power and within the law” to prevent the illegal occupation of land.
The municipality is embroiled in a number of court battles in which defiant occupiers of privately owned land refuse to vacate the properties.
Eviction matters before the Western Cape High Court include that of the Bromwell Street families and the mass Marikana and Siqalo land invasion cases, all of which are expected to be heard early next year.
Thulani Nkosi, a senior attorney at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) said it would prove difficult for the landowners and the city council to evict illegal land invaders.
Seri joined forces with the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Ndifuna Ukwazi and the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education in a quest to pressure the government to “play a stronger role in informal settlement upgrading”.
Nkosi was speaking at the third annual Urban Land Justice gathering, hosted jointly by the social justice movements at the District Six Museum yesterday.
He said “the constitution guarantees everybody a right to a house”.
“There’s no grey area. If a person does not have a house, they can go to their municipality and request one.
“If the municipality is unable to do that - or simply not willing to do that - you are then going to have people going to invade vacant land because they must have a place to live.”
Seri is gearing up to represent thousands of Marikana informal settlement residents at the Western Cape High Court in February.
Nkosi described it as “the biggest eviction case in Cape Town”.
The population on the privately owned property in Philippi East has ballooned from around 500 in 2013 to an estimated 70 000 people.
Seri researcher Dennis Webster said it was likely the case would end up being centred on “ expropriation and whether or not the city (council) should expropriate and upgrade the land”.
Webster said it would be “impossible” for the municipality to find alternative accommodation for 70 000 people.
Thembani Landu, 34, who has stayed at the Marikana informal settlement for the past three years, put the blame at the door of the government.
“The thing is, the RDP houses government built for our families are too small.
“So that is why most of us have gone to Marikana because we want each and every person to have their own place to stay.
“And for free. Because you’d find that several families stay in one house.
“We are not going anywhere and we are going to stay in Marikana,” Landu said.
Another Marikana resident, Judith Sikade, 67, said the informal settlement reminded her of apartheid.
“The conditions we are forced to live under now is the same thing,” she said. “There’s no difference.”
Mayoral committee member for human settlements Benedicta van Minnen cautioned people against land invasions, however.
“Much of this land is not suitable for habitation. For instance, a settlement will form on a dump site or in a wetland which means that the installation of services such as taps, full-flush toilets and electricity is impossible,” she warned in a statement, adding that “the illegal occupation of land puts an enormous strain on resources”.
Meanwhile, Nkosi said he was confident they would win all their eviction cases.
“The question is, how do you implement illegality in a situation where people have nowhere else to go, and when they have no alternatives?” he asked.