Cape Town - A Sheriff of the High Court who executed the removal of illegal shack dwellers from Sanral-owned land in Cape Town is sorry for the impact it had on residents, he said on Tuesday.
“If something like this happens again, I'll definitely handle this in a whole different manner,” Deon Burger told an inquiry investigating the removals from SA National Roads Agency Limited land in Lwandle on June 2 and 3.
“I thank the inquiry that we can learn from this experience and follow guidelines and that everybody across the country can benefit, so that law can also be accommodated in our communities.”
Burger said he received what he described as a court interdict granted by the Western Cape High Court on January 24, which authorised him to remove people and structures that came onto the land after that date.
He said he met police, city officials, and Sanral's contractors to discuss the “huge task”, and the first removals took place on February 3.
More shacks were erected on the land after that date and a second round of removals took place on June 2 and 3.
Burger initially mentioned that he was proud of the manner in which all officials had acted that day and assisted him. He also said no violence or injuries were brought to his attention.
Under questioning by inquiry members, he seemed to change his stance somewhat.
Members had asked, among other things, whether he had made provision for where the residents would be accommodated after their removal.
Burger replied that the court document in his possession did not make mention of that and agreed there should be more guidelines in future.
However, he said he and his team always prayed for the people they had to remove.
He described how his team would hold hands in the morning, have a moment of silence and pray for God to take control of the situation.
“We asked The Lord... to be a support to the communities we were removing, to realise we were only doing our jobs. I also asked God to take charge of the officials involved. They had weapons and were armed.”
He said in this light, the casualties and injuries on June 2 and June 3 were minimal.
“It's truly a miracle that nobody was injured and that it wouldn't erupt into a Marikana. I really thank God that it didn't happen.”
Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with police, over 70 were wounded, and another 250
arrested at Lonmin's mine in Marikana, North West, in August 2012. Police were apparently trying to disarm and disperse them.
Inquiry head advocate Denzil Potgieter said it was really unfortunate and unnecessary, that after all the removals at Lwandle, it had been decided that residents should be returned to the land.
He thanked Burger for his submission.
“Your attitude and approach is appreciated. Unlike what some people think, we are not here to apportion blame. We are trying to find solutions,” Potgieter said.
In a written submission last week, Western Cape premier Helen Zille had accused the inquiry of being a “political hit squad” aimed at apportioning blame on her province and the city of Cape Town.