Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN

Western Cape’s Swartland communities suspend violent protests to address land and services issues

About 4,000 people illegally occupy a piece of land named Silvertown in Chatsworth, Swartland Municipality in the Western Cape. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

About 4,000 people from Chatsworth in the Swartland Municipality are caught in limbo between private law and municipal regulations which has left the community without basic services, prompting growing protests.

In 2014, 53 families first settled on a piece of the land, Portion 9 at the edge of the farm Groene River, No 821 in Swartland Municipality in the Western Cape, which is privately owned by Cape Lifestyle Investments.

The community occupying the land has since grown to about 4,000 and while Cape Lifestyle Developments gained an eviction order in 2014, ongoing legal challenges have delayed any decisive official response to the needs of the community.

A series of violent protests over a lack of services has flared up in the area residents have named Silvertown because of the silver corrugated structures that perch at the entrance to Chatsworth.

The shack dwellers are unhappy and have demanded electricity and flushing toilets on site, arguing that women and children are forced to use nearby bushes, placing their lives in danger.

The Swartland Municipality has supplied water to people who occupy the edge of Portion 9 Groene River, as that is where its mandate ends and because the land is owned by Cape Lifestyle Developments.

The Department of Human Settlements’ position is that spending money on privately owned land is prohibited in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).

Since 16 July 2020 at least three trucks in the area have been set alight and in June an electricity installation was destroyed, leaving the whole of Chatsworth in darkness for about two weeks.

Members of the Chatsworth Action Group told Maverick Citizen each time violent protests erupted, residents were unable to enter or exit the area. Buses, escorted by the SAPS, have been ferrying residents to and from work.

In 2014 a court ordered the municipality to make alternative emergency housing available to the 53 original occupying families, which appears not to have materialised. In 2017, the court ordered that the matter be heard afresh and in 2019 residents themselves approached the court to have the land rezoned.

On 30 January 2019, the community of Portion 9, along with Zanele Lusithi and Veliswa Mbeki, filed papers seeking the possible rezoning of the land in question to a human settlement. 

Cape Lifestyle Investments, meanwhile, has handed a notice of counter-application requesting an inquiry into the ownership of Portion 9 of the Farm Groene River, No 821.

Cape Lifestyle Investments is also asking alternative land and accommodation be made available to the residents of Silvertown. The matter is scheduled to be heard in September 2020.

A representative from Silvertown youth undertook to take back the message that buses were not to be stoned and that feedback meetings would be attended.

This prolonged and drawn-out process has led to anger in Silvertown. A series of meetings followed between representatives from Silvertown, Chatsworth, Cape Lifestyle Investments and Swartland Municipality in an effort to calm the situation.

At the first meeting held on Thursday 18 June 2020, chaired by facilitator Kaya Lala, municipal manager Joggie Scholtz said that formalising the Silvertown settlement was pivotal to acquiring the land from the present landowner.

This would require “a collective approach from all stakeholders and would be a lengthy process and no immediate solution foreseen”.

However, residents from Silvertown were unhappy and on Wednesday 24 June submitted a memorandum raising concerns about the issue of ownership.

At a follow-up meeting on Monday 13 July, Scholtz gave an undertaking that people would not be relocated as some had already built brick structures. The municipality also suggested investigating the possible purchase of the land.

Silvertown residents called an urgent meeting on Thursday 16 July where the Swartland municipality tabled documents from the Deeds Registration Office confirming that Groene Rivier is registered to Cape Lifestyle Investments Ltd.

Silvertown was represented at the meeting by a youth delegation who requested Cape Lifestyle to consider granting a mandate for basic services to be installed while the matter was being finalised in court. Scholtz told this meeting that only interim basic services could be provided.

Cape Lifestyle Investments was asked to give feedback by 24 July over the granting of permission for the installation of temporary services and more importantly, the company’s view on its willingness to sell the land.

A meeting will also be held with Human Settlements on Thursday 23 July on the department’s ability to assist with the “interim” services. Scholtz said a vital part of the issue was the rezoning of the land and acknowledged “administrative hurdles” the municipality had to deal with. The Silvertown land is zoned as agricultural and requires a thorough process in terms of subdivision and further town planning.

Cedric Davids of the Chatsworth Action Group told the meeting that the residents of Silvertown should be able to meet their demands without threatening the safety of others.

“They are gambling with the livelihoods by stoning buses. They stone the buses and the very next morning they wait for the very same bus, so where is the leadership? Why must we have a situation where our buses get escorted in the mornings and at night?” he asked.

A representative from Silvertown youth undertook to take back the message that buses were not to be stoned and that feedback meetings would be attended.

In the meantime, residents of Silvertown have opted to suspend all violent protest and return to the negotiation table to find a solution. DM

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