File picture: Pexels
File picture: Pexels

Court rules against City of Cape Town in land battle

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Aug 26, 2020

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Cape Town – The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has hailed the Western Cape High Court judgment prohibiting the City from conducting evictions and demolitions of occupied and unoccupied structures without judicial oversight.

The court granted temporary interdicts against the City and the SAPS on Tuesday directing that the City’s officials act with respect for the dignity of evicted persons should a court grant them an eviction order.

The SAPS were directed to act in accordance with their constitutional mandate that, should they be present at an eviction, they have a duty to protect the dignity of those evicted.

“The City has further been interdicted from adjudicating and awarding a tender for the demolition of “illegal and informal structures” in the Cape Metropole,” said the LRC.

The LRC, housing advocacy group Housing Assembly and the SA Human Rights Commission joined by the EFF turned to the Western Cape High Court, challenging the City for removing people from their homes and demolishing their structures during the nationwide lockdown.

This was after a Khayelitsha father, Bulelani Qolani, was dragged naked out of his one-room shack when officers wanted to remove it, an incident captured in video and which drew nationwide outrage.

“The LRC and our clients welcome this progressive judgment that seeks to protect the rights of homeless and landless people and seeks to uphold the rule of law. The City has, through mayor Dan Plato, made several derogatory statements levelled at the SAHRC, and the LRC for its role in these proceedings.

“These statements were completely untrue and intended to question the integrity of a chapter 9 organisation and human rights defenders. The City went further on a public campaign to vilify Mr Qolani, publicly shaming him and placing the blame on him for their reprehensible behaviour. The judgment and interim relief thus vindicates our clients and our role in bringing this application for interim relief. It provides a temporary reprieve for people like Mr Qolani who have been serial casualties in the City’s war against the poor,” said the LRC.

However, Plato said he instructed the City’s legal team to appeal against the judgment.

“The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and EFF have specifically asked the court for an interdict preventing landowners from exercising their right to remove empty, unoccupied structures as a means of protecting property from invasion.

“This right – known as counter-spoliation – is a well-established common law principle. Court orders explicitly permit the City to conduct counter-spoliation to protect specific sites from invasion by preventing the erection of illegal, unoccupied structures,” he said.

Plato said the City’s land protection efforts had led to the removal of more than 55 000 illegal structures in 30 different parts of the metro since 1 July. There have been more than 100 separate land invasion incidents recorded.

“The City expects land invasion attempts to increase following this ruling. The granting of an interdict preventing the City from conducting any counter-spoliation to protect public land without a court order goes far beyond what the Constitution and the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (PIE) Act allow.

“If left unchallenged, the interdict would make it almost impossible for landowners to protect their property from unlawful occupation and to prevent people from establishing homes, albeit unlawfully, on the property of others. The knock-on effect of the large-scale orchestrated land invasions we have seen is simply devastating for Cape Town, its communities, residents in general and the City,” he said.

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