Rights group takes City of Cape Town to court over 'evictions'
Cape Town - The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has taken the City of Cape Town to court to prevent the further demolition of shacks and eviction of residents.
On Tuesday, the centre filed court papers at the Western Cape High Court. In a statement, the LRC said: “What we are hoping to achieve in the Western Cape High Court is a declaration that the City’s actions are unlawful and unconstitutional.”
Over the Easter holiday, the City demolished about 30 shacks belonging to land occupiers in Empolweni informal settlement in Khayelitsha.
The LRC said: “We will seek a declaration that the act of sending law enforcement to evict people of Empolweni is unlawful, and material seized by the City should be returned to the community immediately.”
The rights group said the City’s actions were unlawful in the current lockdown context since the minister had called for all evictions to be suspended.Judge President John Hlophe had instructed judges to suspend eviction applications, including the execution against residential immovable property, until April 17.
The Legal Resources Centre has taken the City of Cape Town to court to prevent the further demolition of shacks and eviction of residents. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency/ANA
Nkosikhona Swartbooi from rights group Ndifuna Ukwazi said: “The matter was supposed to be heard but the City was late to file its replying papers people have been left destitute without a roof over their heads.”
Mayco member for human settlements Malusi Booi said the City had acted in a proper manner. “Some people see the lockdown as an opportunity to illegally occupy land... This goes against a direct instruction of the president the City will continue to protect its land and will remove illegal structures.”
Booi said that not a single eviction has taken place.
“I was onsite over the weekend, threatened with violence and even kicked by an angry mob. So I am intimately aware of the situation on the ground. There has been a spike in land invasions in the first few months of this year compared to the corresponding time last year. Another trend that has been visible, is the level of violence perpetrated by members of the public during some of the operations,” Booi said.
He stressed the following:
- The City is not evicting anyone
- In Khayelitsha specifically, the City continues to remove illegally erected unoccupied structures in accordance with an interdict that prohibits people from building on the land in question. There have been no evictions. The law must follow its course as it pertains to any further legal actions in this regard
- Only unoccupied and incomplete structures are being removed
- The City will continue to prevent as many invasions as possible: Just look at how difficult it is to access certain informal settlements and provide services because they were established illegally, with no planning, no access and provision for health, emergency and basic services, and often on privately-owned land
- The City simply cannot on its own deal with the mass urbanisation, housing crisis and macro economic conditions that exist in South Africa
- The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used to justify lawlessness and unlawful behaviour
- Especially now, when the City is starting on the implementation path of its Covid-19 response to assist residents in existing informal settlements, it will be operating at capacity. So the City cannot afford new land invasions as these will directly impact on the crisis response at the moment
“The illegal occupation of vacant land during this period may have dire consequences. These illegal settlements have no access to services, which is a great concern because of the serious health and hygiene, fire, flood and safety risks. The City does not have the capacity to manage unplanned and unbudgeted settlements at the expense of existing settlements,” Booi added.
“We can see the effects of illegal invasions in pockets across the metro and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. This also has a detrimental effect on the City’s mandate to provide housing to its most vulnerable residents and rightful beneficiaries.”