Democracy must not slide into anarchy

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ST_sa lens land0 INLSA A resident from Ext.13 Lenasia attempts to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing an illegally built house. 091112. Picture: Chris Collingridge 382

The clamour against the government’s intervention in an act of criminality committed by a syndicated network in Lenasia has been deafening. Yet the silence on the fraudulent act of the perpetrator, developer and homeowner is palpable and puzzling.

The spotlight has been directed on the government and its law enforcement agencies, whose responsibility it is to uphold the law while protecting the rights of all in a constitutional democracy. It is a very delicate responsibility in a setting where inequalities are glaring, and basic human rights are often emphasised over the accompanying responsibilities. The balance to be struck, indeed, is delicate here.

What the Lenasia illegal land invasion and the subsequent clamour helped to underscore is the existence of inherent contradictions and incongruent expectations that various interests groups will inadvertently exert on democracy.

While many of these groups fervently embrace the notion of law and order, they are quick to condemn law enforcement officials who seek to restore order where there is anarchy.

At face value there is nothing amiss with such condemnations – yet questionable when viewed within the framework of the law.

In the widely reported illegal land invasions in Lenasia, the government’s response has been projected as utterly inhumane and outright insensitive. I n fact, it has been condemned by many interest groups.

However, in the midst of all the sound and fury there is little in the way of a sustainable alternative proposal from those who assert insensitivity and inhumanity on the part of the government.

Instead, they call for the intervention to be halted while anarchy continues to flourish at the expense of the law-abiding citizens who are patiently waiting for government-sponsored shelter on land legally earmarked for such projects. It is such delicate contradictions in terms of expectations that make the work of the government difficult.

The government would like a different solution – but how do you reconcile the fact that the rights of thousands of qualifying poor people are compromised by the continuing illegal occupation of the land in Lenasia?

How do you explain to the law-abiding poor that lawlessness is acceptable when perpetrated by those with the resources to challenge court decisions? In this instance, is there a way to placate both expectations?

In our zealousness to portray the government as inhumane, we overlook the fact that the government’s benevolence has been exploited by the illegal occupiers. Since 2006 through the investigation and subsequent findings of the George Fivas inquiry, the government has been patiently engaging with the illegal land occupants.

From that time, a number of consultation meetings were held with stakeholders representing the interests of the illegal land occupants. While attempting to resolve the matter amicably, the government was also put under pressure by the Association of Property Owners and People Against Land Invasion, whose assets were affected by the illegal occupation.

The government’s efforts to address the matter were all-inclusive and transparent – but its goodwill was, and continues to be, relentlessly abused. The consultations have been deliberately protracted and none of the voices that are currently screaming were interested in resolving this matter.

As a result, the government was left with no alternative but to seek legal recourse from the courts. In pursuit of legal resolve, which is a strong indication of the government’s commitment to democracy, the following process in brief was adhered to.

In September 2010, an interim court order prohibiting the department from demolishing the illegal houses was granted.

An interdict was granted preventing the applicants from erecting further structures on department land until a final order was issued.

While the department adhered to the interim order, the applicants continued to erect structures and invade government-owned stands.

The department opened several cases of contempt of court against the illegal occupiers in December 2010. Thirteen builders were arrested on site for violating the interim order.

In March 2011, the court also ordered that the matter be referred for mediation for the illegal occupiers to explain how they acquired the properties.

Of the 164 illegal occupants, only 11 responded, and only three were found to be on the demand database (the housing waiting list) of the department. The mediation process broke down as the result.

After the failure of mediation, the department approached the court to seek a final order.

Finally, on September 29, 2011 the department was granted an order by the South Gauteng High Court.

Briefly, what the court order entails is that the applicants must vacate the illegally occupied land and remove or demolish the structures within 30 days, failing which the respondent (the government) reserved the right to do so. The order did not compel the department to provide alternative accommodation, given the financial status of the illegal occupants.

It is in the context of these efforts, both legal and consultative, that the government’s intervention should be appreciated. What we should applaud here is the commitment of the government to fight corruption and lawlessness in Gauteng. The unpalatable reality is that if we continue to tolerate criminality and disregard for the law, the country will be thrown into anarchy where criminal syndicates call the shots.

And as proud South Africans it is not what we stand for. It is therefore our responsibility to rid our society of such elements because it is their criminality that seeks to undermine and mock the democracy that we all cherish.

l Nomvula Mokonyane is the Premier of Gauteng


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