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Cape Town: The only line on ‘land invasions’ is the Rule of Law

Cape Town: The only line on ‘land invasions’ is the Rule of Law
Law enforcement officials clash with residents in Kraaifontein, Cape Town, after the officials allegedly tore down illegally built structures in Bloekombos in August 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

City of Cape Town housing projects costing more than R1.3bn are under threat of illegal invasion. It is important that residents and law enforcement authorities work together to prevent this.

The nature of land invasions in Cape Town, as most of us have seen in the media and in our neighbourhoods over the last month, leaves little room for assumption.

Over 55,500 illegal structures were prevented from potentially becoming “dwellings” in the last 30 days in over 30 different parts of the Cape Town metro. This stretches our resources and has a negative impact on existing services and projects. Just in the Bloekombos area of Kraaifontein in July alone, the City removed 21,500 pegs used to demarcate “plots” for illegal occupation and 4,500 vacant structures.

In the past 30 odd days, 105 separate land invasion attempts in Cape Town were staged. It is clear that we don’t “claim” to be under siege with land invasions, as a recent article in Daily Maverick asserts (“Cape Town is engaged in a war – against its own citizens”, 17 August).

And yes, the authors would be naïve to think recent Cape Town land invasions were not politically orchestrated, well organised and opportunistic, with up to a dozen separate invasion attempts in one day in the City last week.

The South African Police Service (SAPS), landowners of any stripe from wealthy to low-income, residents, community organisations and governments across our country are engaged in preventing illegal land invasions for the greater good.

City law enforcement officers are putting their bodies on the line, with 46 injured on duty and 17 official vehicles damaged in just the last month since 11 July. As a reminder, and for perspective, City Law Enforcement and Metro Police are around 1,000 personnel compared to the SAPS contingent of 22,000 in Cape Town.

The opportunity cost of land invasions is incredibly high. To name several examples:

  • Delays in vital housing and infrastructure projects due to land invasions on these properties;
  • Attempts to queue-jump the housing list or illegally occupy newly built units ahead of long-deserving residents;
  • Pollution of water systems due to uncontrolled growth;
  • Loss of investments and economic potential due to invaded private property; and
  • Invasion of land that is dangerous for human occupation due to flooding and instability.

City housing projects costing over R1.3-billion are under threat of illegal invasion. It is important that residents and law enforcement authorities work together to prevent this.

We thank residents for reporting illegal land invasion attempts and for working with us to uphold the rule of law in our city.

The mayor has further met with the national police commissioner to call for more Public Order Policing support, and written to the president calling for an urgent coordinated response of the three levels of government to curb the national crisis of illegal land invasions.

We urge political parties, activist organisations and community leaders to please consider the bigger picture and to stop driving or condoning land invasions for short-term gain, as the long-term impacts are immense.

We are receiving widespread reports of “shack farming” which is the illegal selling of plots of public land for R1,000 or more at a time.

Our officials are reporting that pre-built structures are transported and dropped directly onto land, and we have all seen the visuals of large, organised groups at times running into the hundreds, including many young people.

Criminality on this scale cannot be tolerated in our society.

The City is further aware of allegations that landlords illegally evict backyarders against the national lockdown regulations. This must be reported to authorities.

Unfortunately, we cannot promote instances where land invasion is an acceptable alternative, no matter the situation. The social consequences of land invasions are too devastating for this illegal act to be condoned.

We are a growing city, and we owe it to future generations to protect land intended for service delivery, schools, housing and community facilities.

For our part, the City is spending housing budgets as far as they can take us within the national human settlements framework, and of course we all wish for a national fiscus that could drive delivery, and for more sensible legislation, regulations and subsidies.

Nevertheless, in the 2018/19 financial year, we spent 95% of the available human settlements grants and in 2019/20, where at least a third of the year was heavily affected by Covid-19 and lockdown regulations, we managed to spend a full 94% of the human settlements budget due to the utter commitment we have to improve the lives of our residents.

Many thousands of law-abiding people are silently bearing the severe impact of land invasions due to the unlawful actions of a relatively small group of people who occupy land illegally.

We do draw a line between law-abiding residents and those who break the law. It’s called the rule of law, and more of us need to stand up for it. DM

Councillor Malusi Booi is Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements in the City of Cape Town.

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