ALMOST three years after law enforcement officers dragged a naked man from his home in full view of the public, the act has come back to haunt the City with a R1.4 million civil damages claim.
Khayelitsha resident Bulelani Qolani is suing the City for R1.426m for damages after he was dragged from his home in the Empolweni informal settlement on July 1, 2020, while the country was in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The officers thereafter proceeded to demolish his structure with crowbars.
The conduct by the City's officers was declared unlawful and unconstitutional by Western Cape High Court judges.
The demolition of homes belonging to, and the eviction of, other occupiers in Emploweni, Entabeni, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni and Hangberg in Hout Bay were also declared unlawful and unconstitutional.
Qolani and his legal representatives were expected to launch the litigation proceedings in court next week.
According to Yusrah Bardien of the Law Centre and social justice advocacy group Ndifuna Ukwazi, the sheriff was expected to serve Qolani's papers to the City next week to start the legal process.
In a judgment delivered last year, a panel of three judges, Judge Vincent Saldanha, Judge Mokgoatji Dolamo and Judge Hayley Slingers, said the image of the eviction, which sent shock waves across the country and abroad, was described as “reminiscent of the brutal forced removals” under apartheid.
The judges described city manager Lungelo Mbandazayo’s description in court papers of Qolani as a “nude streaker” as “shocking at the very least”.
According to Ndifuna Ukwazi, Qolani had earlier tried to reach a settlement with the City. But the efforts were unsuccessful.
The City’s spokesperson, Luthando Tyhalibongo, confirmed the settlement efforts.
“It is correct that Mr Qolani did make a demand for damages on the City previously, via correspondence sent in 2020. But the demand did not result in a settlement of the claims made,“ said Tyhalibongo.
In 2020 law enforcement officers carried out a series of evictions and demolitions in what the City later argued in court was in pursuit of counter spoliation in the face of illegal land occupations.
In subsequent proceedings the court heard evidence that the law enforcement officers were not in possession of a court order when they entered Qolani's house two years ago and proceeded to drag him out while he was bathing.
In its defence, the City argued that its actions were justified as it was acting under the authority of a court order.
However, the court held that “neither such court order, nor any issued by any court in a constitutional democracy” would justify the “brutal and inhumane conduct perpetrated on an unarmed person”.
The City’s second defence was based on counter spoliation - a legal defence that allows a person or entity to forcibly retake possession of property unlawfully taken from them.
It advanced that homes which were “unoccupied” could still not be possessed by those who lived in them.
However, the court found that while counter spoliation, if properly applied. was not an invalid defence or unconstitutional, the City's interpretation was incorrect and inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid with regard to the eviction of persons and the demolition of their homes.
Ndifuna Ukwazi said while what happened to Qolani was “horrifying”, it was not uncommon .
Landless people, social movements and other organisations would march on the City on February 8 to symbolise a push back against what they regarded as “continued oppression and abuse of the poor“, said a leader of informal settlements in Khayelitsha, Wiseman Mpepo.
“We will send a message to the City that poor informal settlement dwellers are humans, too, and should be treated as such.“