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While Sanral has said the evictions were carried out to make way for an N2 bypass, this seems unlikely, says Nathan Geffen.
Cape Town - The house demolitions and evictions that took place in Strand recently highlighted the class and race fractures that run through our country.
Several hundred desperately poor black people had their shacks torn down and were dispossessed of their meagre belongings during a bitterly cold and wet Cape Town winter. Their removal by the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) was possibly unlawful, as Pierre de Vos has argued. Alongside where they lived is the predominantly white Strand Ridge community, who were worried about a recently erected informal settlement’s effect on their property values and living conditions. And when a Sanral-owned field in Blackheath, about 20km away, was touted as a place to move the evicted residents, the coloured community who would be their new neighbours reacted angrily.
While Sanral has said the evictions were carried out to make way for an N2 bypass, this seems unlikely. If you look at a map of the surrounding area, it’s unclear where such a bypass would go. We know from court papers and correspondence that there was pressure on Sanral from the Strand Ridge residents as well as the City of Cape Town to remove the informal settlement. But the court papers that we have seen do not contain an N2 bypass plan.
The actions of these three communities should be understood. The people of Nomzamo need a place to stay, and opportunities for work, health care and education. The residents of Strand Ridge are not wealthy; they have legitimate concerns about living next to an informal settlement. So too the current residents of Blackheath.
This is why it was particularly important for the various parties responsible for Nomzamo to have worked very hard together to come up with a workable way forward. Instead, from national government, Sanral, the City of Cape Town, the ANC, the DA and Ses’Khona, there appear to have been agendas and agendas within agendas. The consequences were disastrous for the residents of Nomzamo.
There are many unanswered questions:
Why did Sanral and the sheriff of the court carry out the evictions at this time of the year when no alternative living arrangements had been made?
Why were the residents’ belongings taken, even when some begged to keep them?
Were the evictions indeed unlawful? If so, why weren’t the residents immediately moved back to where they lived last week, their possessions returned and some compensation paid – at least until there’s a better long-term solution?
What efforts, prior to the evictions, were made by all three spheres of government and Sanral, in consultation with the Nomzamo residents, to find an alternative, permanent, acceptable piece of land? The public record currently shows legal threats, court cases and acrimony, not solution-finding.
Were the minister of police and the mayoral committee member for safety and security unaware of what was to transpire? If they were not, why not? If they were, why didn’t they take action to protect the Nomzamo residents?
Many residents pay a R25 fee to Ses’Khona, which is supposed to include legal representation. What legal action has been taken in support of the residents? Also, Ses’Khona T-shirts have President Zuma printed on them; what is the relationship between Ses’Khona and the ANC?
Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is establishing an inquiry into what happened. This is a good idea – however, the inquiry must be run by people respected by all sides and perceived to be disinterested. If the inquiry is merely a political game then, as always, the people who will lose out most will be the poorest: the shack dwellers. But all the other communities involved will also be harmed.
* Nathan Geffen is the editor of GroundUp.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.