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Prasa removing land invaders from the railway lines to get train service on track

Prasa security officials remove illegal occupants from its rail premises. Pictures: Supplied

Prasa security officials remove illegal occupants from its rail premises. Pictures: Supplied

Published Feb 10, 2022

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Cape Town - Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has begun clearing railway tracks occupied by illegal land invaders to get the crippled train service up and running again.

It started by removing 30 land invaders from the rail premises between Woodstock and Salt River this week.

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Prasa spokesperson Andiswa Makanda said the operation was successful and prevented further encroachment. She said Prasa planned to close off its property to prevent further encroachments on the rail network.

“Encroachment on the rail system is one of the biggest challenges facing Prasa and the entity will not tolerate acts that undermine people’s constitutional right to travel safely on our rail network,“she said.

Metrorail acting spokesperson Nana Zenani said it was dangerous to operate trains when there were illegal land invaders on its premises. Illegal invasions made it impossible to access the tracks for maintenance purposes.

She said illegal occupation on the railway tracks started in 2019.

Almost all the lines on the Central Line route were closed as a result of invasions.

In November last year, the Western Cape High Court granted Prasa an extension for the lawful relocation of people illegally occupying the agency’s property along the Langa railway lines.

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Prasa said the closure of the Central Line came at a huge cost and inconvenience for thousands of commuters who rely on affordable railway transportation to get to and from work, not to mention Cape Town’s economy.

SA Human Rights provincial commissioner Chris Nissen has called on Prasa to find durable solutions, and engage with the homeless people. He said Prasa needed a court order to remove people.

“They can’t just remove people if they have been there for more than 48 hours. It is regrettable what Prasa has done. We understand they need to protect their property and infrastructure.”

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Legal Resources Centre attorney Lelethu Mgedezi said the bottom line was that the order granted by the Western Cape High Court in 2020 remained operational.

“Evictions and demolitions during the national state of disaster and/ or pending the finalisation of Part B of the matter are prohibited, unless otherwise ordered by a court,” he said.

Attorney Jonty Cogger, of activist organisation and law centre Ndifuna Ukwazi, said the dispossession and removal of people who experienced homelessness from public land and places was an inhumane knee-jerk reaction to a complex situation.

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Such thoughtless actions only served to perpetuate street-based people’s vulnerability and displaced the root causes of why people were forced to find shelter in public, he said.

“It is also unconstitutional and against the provisions of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 to evict someone from their home without a court order,” Cogger said.

He said Prasa’s actions flew in the face of respect for the rule of law and basic human rights.

“As a society, we all need to develop more humane and dignified alternative solutions, rather than falling into the trap of treating people who experience homelessness as subhuman, undeserving of basic human rights and common decency,” Cogger said.

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Cape Argus

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