Pretoria - Unless the City of Tshwane urgently allocates land to migrants to the city, the problem of illegal occupation will continue to escalate this year, and the capital’s residents will pay the price.
This is the warning of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) lawyer Louise du Plessis, who last year assisted various communities that had been evicted from land they occupied, only to be returned to it.
“All these (eviction) applications are brought on an urgent basis and the issues are basically always the same,” she said.
Because of the influx of people into the city, and the shortage and high cost of formal housing, people could not be accommodated in formal areas so people put up informal structures on open land instead – only to be evicted by the council.
Someone objected and the council moved in to remove them.
But then the court might find in their favour and local government authorities such as the metro police could even be ordered to replace building materials used by the squatters when their shacks were taken down.
In an application last month, Judge Neil Tuchten remarked that courts ought to be careful in evicting the homeless if they did not have somewhere else to for them.
One could not simply say “these people came from somewhere else and they should thus go back to where they had come from”, he said.
The cost of an eviction order is also borne by the local ratepayers.
Last year Lawyers for Human Rights assisted the people of Zithobeni Extension 9 in Bronkhorstspruit.
When their case went to court, the City of Tshwane was ordered to allow residents to move back to the land they were occupying – and to pay the legal costs.
“LHR will bring a contempt-of-court application against the authorities. We are already working on the application,” said Du Plessis.
In this case Jan Ntlana, one of the occupiers of the land, said in a statement that he and his family had lived on land adjacent to Extension 4 for 12 years. His landlord upped his rent to R1 000 a month and he could no longer afford to live there, so he moved.
Meanwhile, the City of Tshwane bought land in Extension 9 and people from the surrounding areas, who were either backyard dwellers or on a waiting list for RDP homes, moved on to the land.
Ntlana and his family also moved there and he built a two-roomed home from wood and 30 sheets of corrugated iron. He said he used all his savings to buy the material for his home.
In April last year the metro police instructed him and others to vacate the land. “No written notice was given to the community and it was unclear on what basis the metro police were acting,” said Du Plessis.
The residents did not move but handed over a petition to the council in which they demanded basic services on the land.
They thought the council would discuss the problems with them, but instead the police were sent in to demolish their homes.
Ntlana said he had been at work at the time his building material, clothes and other belongings were removed and loaded on to trucks.
“The goods were too bulky to be loaded. Kitchen units and wardrobes were simply smashed to pieces and left,” he said.
“When I got back from work, my home was demolished. All that remained on my property was a smashed wardrobe, some scattered food and cooking utensils.”
Du Plessis said people would continue to stream into Pretoria from other areas in search of work, so it was necessary that the council made a plan to accommodate them.
One of the problems, Du Plessis said, was “backyard” dwellings, where people rent a shack in a resident’s yard. These shacks became overcrowded or expensive, and people then sought an alternative.
The city maintained it was providing housing in the form of “RDP” houses, but the waiting lists were long and many waited years in vain for a home of their own.
“Until they (city officials) realise that people (migrating to the city) need land where they can settle informally, this problem will not go away,” Du Plessis warned, anticipating that the courts would again be called on to intervene. “The city may say, ‘Evict these people,’ but the Constitutional Court has made it clear these people must receive help.”