Cape Town - The City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government have slammed the ministerial inquiry into last month’s Lwandle evictions, saying the probe is a “political hit squad” that has no legal basis.
And Premier Helen Zille has warned that there will be an “immediate” court challenge if the findings call for the city to act outside its mandate to provide housing for people who are not on the waiting list.
The two spheres of government were supposed to make oral submissions to the inquiry on Tuesday, but instead mayor Patricia de Lille and Zille called a press conference explaining why they would not be at the hearing that had been set up by the national Department of Human Settlements.
“Given our bitter past experience of ‘political hit squads’ in the context of the unilateral and politicised approach the minister has taken to this issue, we do not believe that the present process passes legal or constitutional muster,” said Zille.
She compared it to the Erasmus Commission, set up by then premier Ebrahim Rasool to investigate claims that the City of Cape Town had spied on councillors. The commission was declared unconstitutional by the Western Cape High Court.
This inquiry, which was “unilaterally” set up by the national minister, was also politically motivated, she said. “The terms of reference are framed to look at whether the City of Cape Town and the province are to blame.”
Zille said Minister Lindiwe Sisulu needed to explain why this particular issue in a DA-led province and city merited an inquiry when there were similar evictions in other parts of the country. The composition of the committee also came under fire, with Zille saying that 90 percent of the panel comprised ANC MPs or people linked to the party.
Although former DA MP Butch Steyn has been a vocal part of the team, Zille said there was “no way one person can determine the outcome”. She added that she did not want to say more about Steyn’s involvement in the probe.
Zille referred to affidavits backing claims that civic group Ses’Khona had encouraged the land invasions, and had sold plots for R2 500. She said the involvement of local ANC councillors in the land invasions also needed to be investigated.
Both De Lille and Zille pointed out that the city and province were not involved in the eviction of more than 200 families from Nomzamo near Somerset West on June 2, only in the humanitarian relief that followed.
The land is owned by the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) and the families were evicted in accordance with a high court order issued in January. De Lille said there had been two evictions on that land – one in February and the second last month.
The inquiry, headed by advocate Denzil Potgieter, is trying to establish the circumstances leading up to and including the eviction. Confusion dominated the first day’s hearing, as the Department of Human Settlements struggled to settle on the number of people affected. It was reported that the numbers had been inflated to as many as 900 people.
De Lille said: “We’ve only got written proof of 234 families evicted, yet we are rebuilding 849 structures. To me, that’s wasteful expenditure.”
She said only 73 of the people evicted from the Sanral land were legally on the city’s housing database. “Accounts from the area indicate that many of the people evicted from the Sanral land were originally backyarders in the neighbouring informal areas.”
Housing MEC Bonginkozi Madikizela said the eviction should not be seen as a way of jumping the housing queue.
Meanwhile, witness Tim Flack testified on Tuesday that he had seen officials of the SAPS, the city’s law enforcement and metro police on the scene. He said he had been told by the city’s disaster risk management that it could not intervene as the incident was on private land.
The hearing has been adjourned until next week when Sanral will make its presentation.
Vusi Tshose, spokesperson for the inquiry, said it was “disappointing” that the city and province would not make oral submissions. He denied any political motive for the investigation. “The terms of reference are very clear on what the inquiry is about.”