Police fire stun grenades at residents protesting demolition that left 10 homeless
Ten people were left homeless in Hangberg, Hout Bay as a bitter cold front hit the city. This follows protests against the demolishing of a partially built structure by the City of Cape Town.
Hangberg community leader and lawyer, Lee Smith, accused the City of Cape Town of dishonouring a “gentleman’s agreement” when a half-constructed brick structure with a cement foundation was demolished on Thursday 11 June.
The City has maintained that the structure was illegal and uninhabited.
Smith criticised police for firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at residents protesting against the demolition. Tension boiled over when residents pelted police with stones. A young protester sustained injuries to his arm and ribs during the fracas.
The piece of land in question had been earmarked for housing but in November 2019 the City built an electricity depot on the site.
Smith then filed an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court to interdict the City from continuing further developments on the site.
At the time, Smith had argued the city had violated a “Peace Accord” that had been agreed to in September 2010 and which became an order of the high court in 2011.
In terms of the accord, the City had agreed to build houses on the site but had instead built an electricity depot without consulting the community, said Smith.
“At the time of the application several violent protests took place in the area and in terms of a gentleman’s agreement before Judge Erasmus we gave the undertaking to stop all protest action and the City to not do any further developments or evict people,” he said.
Vernon Seymour, a legal representative for the Hangberg community, reiterated the law was clear that people could not be evicted without receiving prior notice.
Ten people were rendered homeless by the demolition.
“The City came with their cowboy style to demolish structures. I have consulted with the community. We are going to file an urgent application to have the 10 people left homeless, reinstated in their homes. This is going to be a new application. The previous matter was scheduled just before lockdown and postponed till July 2020,” said Seymour.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Malusi Booi, condemned the violence during protest action, the injuries to protesters and the damage to property.
“The City, supported by the South African Police Service, dismantled two unoccupied illegally erected structures, one being a half-built brick and cement foundation. No one has been living in these structures permanently,” said Booi.
Booi said the action had not been an eviction and that “the City is legally allowed to prevent land invasions. The City cannot allow the illegal occupation of land. Those inhabitants will not have services, and often settle on land that is flood-prone.”
Meanwhile, police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana said Hout Bay police had opened an investigation into public violence surrounding the demolition. The City, she said, had demolished “illegal unoccupied structures in Hangberg when a group of about 100 community members participated in a protest”.
Noloyiso said police had taken action to disperse the crowd and that no one had been arrested.
In a separate incident, law enforcement officers were accused on Tuesday 9 June of tearing down two large marquees erected by Observatory residents for the homeless on land that belongs to the City.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Zahid Badroodien, said spaces were available at homeless shelters across Cape Town and there was no need for Observatory residents to have illegally erected a tent on public property.
Both these incidents occurred at a time when severe weather grips the Western Cape and days after the City withdrew its Strandfontein temporary shelter camp litigation against the South Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and 10 others in the Western Cape High Court.
The Anti-Repression Working Group of the C-19 People’s Coalition along with the 10 accredited monitors of the SAHRC on Thursday, in a joint statement, said their victory had come at a huge cost, with millions of rand wasted by the City.
The group added they had witnessed how the City had deployed law enforcement officers against homeless people across Cape Town and highlighted the case of the Singabalapha residents in Observatory.
“As residents and taxpayers in Cape we condemn the fruitless and wasteful expenditure of our money for the purposes of stifling freedom of expression and protection of human rights,” said the coalition.
The City had argued that the Strandfontein matter had been moot and had abandoned the case.
“We say this case is not moot, it is kept alive by ongoing human rights violations and denial of the right to dignity, freedom of speech, decent shelter, access to healthcare and protection of vulnerable groups, to name a few. Take your boots off our necks,” the statement read. DM/MC