NGOs on wrong side of the law, says Cape Town mayor Dan Plato

A large group of people, of which the majority are women and children, measured out plots and building homes on an open field near Bloekombos in Kraaifontein. This area in Kraaifontein has seen large scale land invasions reently. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

A large group of people, of which the majority are women and children, measured out plots and building homes on an open field near Bloekombos in Kraaifontein. This area in Kraaifontein has seen large scale land invasions reently. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Aug 19, 2020


Dan Plato

FOR ANY society to thrive, one needs cohesion, a commitment to work together towards a common goal, and a shared set of values.

A government cannot achieve its goals on its own, it needs willing partners, that includes civil society, the private sector, the religious community, NGOs and other spheres of government to all work together.

We have seen during the national Covid-19 lockdown over recent months how many businesses in the private sector have come forward with donations of hundreds of thousands of face masks, hand sanitisers, and food hampers for those who have fallen on hard times.

We have seen the many NGOs who run soup kitchens feed thousands of residents every day, and we have supported over 200 of these organisations with gas burners, large pots, gas canisters and ingredients so that they can feed even more residents in need.

Unfortunately, while we have many hard-working and sincere NGOs in Cape Town, who make a huge contribution towards the upliftment of those in need, we also have a handful of organisations that have no regard for the rule of law and instead encourage vulnerable residents to break the law and bring further hardship on themselves.

Over recent weeks, the City of Cape Town has had to prevent up to a dozen illegal land invasions across the metro on a daily basis. Many of these are highly organised and supported by political parties like the EFF, and NGOs like Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi.

The land invaded is often on wetlands, which get flooded in winter, or on a housing site currently under construction, or a site being used to expand service delivery.

In last week’s Saturday Argus, several representatives from the two above mentioned NGOs argue that illegal land invasions should not be deemed criminal and are justifiable provided the invaders have an urgent need for shelter.

Given the devastating social consequences of land invasion, it can never be justified under any circumstances. On the contrary, we all have a moral duty to uphold the rule of law and prevent illegal land grabs.

While the NGOs acknowledge alleged evictions of backyarders by their landlords despite the illegality thereof during the national lockdown, their response seems to be to encourage those evicted to illegally invade land that doesn’t belong to them rather than address those landlords who have broken the law. Clearly, they have adopted the broken logic of “two wrongs make a right”.

An example of the impact of illegal land invasions is the Mahama housing site in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, being built at a cost of R50 million, and which has a planned total of 1 100 housing opportunities. A total of 420 families who have waited patiently on a housing waiting list have had their rights undermined as this site was illegally invaded late last month.

It was one of several orchestrated invasions on that particular day, and the City simply didn’t have enough resources to attend to all of them at the same time, and nor is there enough Public Order Policing support from the SAPS.

Another example is land that was illegally invaded in Khayelitsha, despite a court order preventing no more than the original 49 land invaders from temporarily occupying the site. It lies on the pathway of a R162 million water infrastructure upgrade project that has had to be halted. This project would have seen increased water access for thousands of Khayelitsha residents and have laid the infrastructure for future housing developments to be built.

Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi believe the rights of 49 illegal land invaders are more important than the thousands of law abiding residents who would have benefited from the infrastructure and housing.

The National Minister of Human Settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, has shared the concerns of the City of Cape Town and in a recent statement, said: “The pieces of land being invaded are earmarked for government projects. These include providing housing for qualifying beneficiaries who have been on the waiting lists for a long time, taking away this land deprives the poorest of the poor their right to decent accommodation.

“We, therefore, call on law enforcement agencies to act decisively to halt the land invasions… The Minister believes that those who invade land should swiftly be dealt with and removed to prevent anarchy from spreading to other municipalities.”

Nothing is said by the NGOs when those who have invaded the City-owned land now want to extort others and make them pay R1 000 to stay on the land they have now captured. This is the case for Nyameka Mantambo, a mother of five, who spoke to another media outlet about having to leave the invaded land in Khayelitsha after being harassed and not being able to pay the extortion fee.

These NGOs turn a blind eye to the hardships they create as they continually encourage the breaking of the law.

We have also seen how these same NGOs who have established “Community Action Networks” or CANs in various communities across Cape Town have misled caring residents who want to help those in need to join a movement that clearly has an alternative agenda.

One Community Action Network has already taken the City to court to protect an illegal land invasion, and another one attempted to capture a community hall for their own purposes and kick out the local residents who were using the hall prior to the lockdown.

The NGOs go further, and state: “At the end of the day, there are no clear lines, no heroes or demons”. Perhaps they should explain that to the private land owners who have lost their land to land invasions, or to the residents who will no longer receive improved services due to service delivery projects being halted, or to the illegal land invaders who “sell” land that doesn’t belong to them.

One thing is clear to the City of Cape Town – there is a line, it’s called the rule of law, and we will always act to protect those who are on the right side of the law. Failure to do this will result in anarchy, and this is something we can never allow.

*Plato is the mayor of Cape Town

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