New occupation by-law slated as ‘return to apartheid’
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CAPE TOWN - The City’s passing of the Unlawful Occupation By-law, alongside updates to the Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances By-law, has been labelled as a “return to the apartheid era, a legacy of discrimination”.
Council gave the green light to the controversial by-laws on Wednesday following the unanimous approval by the safety and security portfolio committee earlier this month.
Civil rights activists protested outside the Cape Town Civic Centre on Wednesday, saying the laws would criminalise people who live on the streets and in informal settlements across the city.
The updated new Streets by-law states that a person found sleeping in a public place without authority would be issued with a compliance notice.
“They will be offered alternative shelter, such a person only commits an offence if they refuse a reasonable offer of alternative shelter. A court may not sentence a guilty person to prison. It may only fine the person,” the by-law states.
The Unlawful Occupations by-law states that officials would be able to dismantle the structure and impound the occupier’s possessions if it is on land under the City’s control or if the structure is “not yet capable of constituting a home” on any other land.
Those convicted of violating the by-law could face fines or imprisonment.
Housing lobby group Ndifuna Ukwazi law centre is currently challenging the City on it’s Streets by-law, representing people in three cases – 46 occupiers at District 6, 21 occupiers from Green Point Tennis Club, and repeated raids on 11 Homeless people in the City Bowl, also known as the Gelderbloem case.
While council voted on the by-laws yesterday, the District 6 matter was heard as an urgent matter in court and the City submitted a substantive recusal of the judge in the case.
Attorney of Ndifuna Ukwazi, Jonty Cogger said: “The by-laws are severely regressive to our constitutional democracy. They confirm to themselves the power to evict someone without a court order.
“This is the return to the days of apartheid where the government had free range to oppressed people with an impunity. The fact the Council saw fit to return to these days is astounding.
“We have been given an instruction by our clients in Gelderbloem matter to interdict and challenge the amended Streets-law not to see the light of the day.”
Cogger said the legislation unfairly discriminated against people, making it harder for them to survive in already vulnerable situations.
Reclaim The City said this would be no different from the forced removals seen in history.
Development Action Group’s (DAG) project officer Ryan Fester said the passing of the by-law would have a negative effect on the homeless population and called for adequate shelter in the inner city, should it be implemented.
“Adequate opportunities need to be made available for the reintegration of the homeless back into society. This includes rehabilitation from drugs or alcohol and livelihood opportunities.
“There is no clear indication on what will happen to a homeless person who is denied access by the shelter because they are drunk, battling with drugs or display aggressive behavior,” said Fester.
ANC caucus spokesperson Fiona Abrahams and her party voted against the by-law. She said public participation by the city was only a tick on the box.
She called for every councillor who voted for the by-laws to be criminally charged because “they are an attack on human rights”.
However, chairperson of the Safety and Security portfolio committee Mzwakhe Nqavashe rubbished the Abrahams statement claiming that ANC was part of the committee that looked into this by-law and agreed with the City’s proposal.
Good secretary-general Brett Herron said there was no emphasis on social assistance.
“Here, law-enforcement officials conduct raids and operations to confiscate the meagre possessions of homeless people, allegedly including their identity documents, and chase them out of town. The by-law legalises this behaviour,” he said.