Cape Town -
Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is to establish an inquiry on Thursday into the eviction of hundreds of people who illegally occupied land owned by the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) in Lwandle.
And, of immediate relief to families camping in community halls in the area, Sisulu and the transport ministers have agreed the illegal occupiers may temporarily resettle on the land, while the government, Sanral and the City of Cape Town seek a solution to the dispute.
It was not clear whether the confiscated building materials would be returned or replaced, or when rebuilding would be permitted.
Sisulu, her deputy Zou Kota-Fredericks, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters, and Sanral and city representatives visited the affected families at a local community hall.
Sisulu said: “What we saw in the media, the information we gathered from the community, reports we received from Sanral and statements from the City of Cape Town leaves us with many unanswered questions.
“It is not possible that in the middle of a very cold Western Cape winter, rains and children writing exams, the whole community can be removed in such a brutal way. That concerns me.”
She added: “We must be very clear: we do not encourage illegal occupation of land. It is the inhumane way in which children and women are being removed during winter that we are concerned about. The people will have to move out of the land when necessary arrangements are made.”
Meanwhile, the fracas has raised concerns that inter-governmental relations have broken down to the detriment of hundreds of those evicted.
Sanral is a national government agency under the transport ministry, while responsibility for housing falls to the DA-run Cape Town council. The national government has been embarrassed by the evictions, just a couple of weeks after the ANC touted “the good story” to win the May 7 elections.
On Wednesday, Sanral and the city continued to blame each other. Questions have been asked why Sanral chose this week to enforce an eviction order obtained in January.
“The prescripts are very clear,” said Sisulu’s spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, on Wednesday. “Sanral should have elevated the dispute. The City of Cape Town should have elevated the dispute. Both of them seem not to have done that. Part of this inquiry will be to find out why not. There are lessons to developing guidelines to prevent similar situations. There are lessons to be learnt how parastatals engage with local government.”
It is understood lawyers met on Wednesday to finalise the terms of references for the inquiry, expected to last two weeks. According to Chapter 3 of the constitution, all spheres of government must “secure the well-being of the people of the Republic”, assist and support each other, co-ordinate their actions and consult each other on matters of mutual interest.
Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona, who described the evictions as “very regrettable”, welcomed an inquiry. But, like Cape Town mayoral committee member Siyabulela Mamkeli, he blamed the other side for the debacle.
Mona said efforts by Sanral to buy an alternative piece of land to relocate the community from Lwandle and to secure the co-operation of the city were scuppered amid court action to prevent plans to toll Cape Town’s highways. Citing an e-mail dated April 8, 2011, Mona said the city withdrew all co-operation until the road-tolling dispute was resolved.
In January, days after the city’s anti-land invasion alerted Sanral to illegal occupation, the roads agency obtained an eviction order. But Mona said Sanral could not be held responsible for providing alternative accommodation.
“We don’t have a mandate to allocate housing,” he said. The agency would contravene treasury and finance regulation if it used its money to do so. “Our view is that it is the city’s mandate to (house) their residents.”
Eviction orders are not easily obtained and require the provision of alternative accommodation.
Mamkeli maintained the city was fulfilling its obligations by providing humanitarian relief. “Sanral, the ANC and various national ministers have tried to distort what has transpired in Lwandle. All these efforts have been aimed at trying to blame the City of Cape Town for a process that is the result of the actions/inaction of the national government-controlled Sanral.”
The disputed site, already subject to a series of court actions, was earmarked for a planned upgrade of the N2.
The issue arose in Parliament a year ago, DA MP and transport spokesman Ian Ollis said. At the time, the DA made alternative proposals on the highway construction to Sanral, which were rejected.
“It is undignified and inhumane to move people now, in the middle of winter, when they knew about this a long time ago,” said Ollis.
Freedom Front Plus MP Anton Alberts said Sanral, which already had a reputation of not caring in connection with Gauteng’s e-tolls, was acting unconstitutionally and had violated people’s human rights by evicting them in the middle of winter without providing alternative accommodation. The national government should have intervened immediately.
Cosatu was “disgusted” by Sanral’s evictions, “further evidence of its arrogant disregard for the interests of the poor people of South Africa”. It also criticised the silence of the City of Cape Town and Western Cape administration, even if not directly responsible.
ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party in the Western Cape would work with the community to ensure there was no reccurence.