RIGHT TO DIGNITY
State of the nation — housing rights activists march against ‘abuse’ of landless people in Cape Town
Protesters marched to the Cape Town Civic Centre on Wednesday, demanding an end to the abuse of landless and indigent people by law enforcement officers. They also want justice for Bulelani Qolani, who was dragged naked from his home by city employees during the 2020 Covid lockdown.
Members of several housing rights movements marched to the Civic Centre in Cape Town on Wednesday to protest against the “physical and psychological abuse” they say landless people in informal settlements and other vulnerable populations experience at the hands of law enforcement.
About 200 protesters from Ndifuna Ukwazi, Intlungu yaseMatyotyombeni, Indibano Yabahlali, The Housing Assembly, Reclaim the City and the People’s Movement for Change moved through the centre of the city carrying signs with messages like, “Housing is a human right” and “Being poor is not a crime”.
“We feel that [law enforcement] are treating us with a very heavy hand,” said Kenneth Matlawe of The Housing Assembly.
“They are brutal, and there’s this thing of criminalising homeless people… you can see from their conduct that they treat us as less than human.”
The marchers demanded justice for Bulelani Qolani, a resident of eThembeni, Khayelitsha, who was dragged naked from his shack by Cape Town law enforcement during the 2020 lockdown.
Qolani’s case made headlines in July 2020 when a video of his ordeal was widely circulated on social media.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “High court censures City of Cape Town over Covid evictions”
Wednesday’s march was intended as a show of solidarity with Qolani, in light of his recently launched litigation against the City of Cape Town.
Bulelani Qolani to sue city
Qolani intends to sue the City of Cape Town for about R1.4-million in damages for physical assault, impairment of dignity, emotional shock, pain and suffering and other claims.
“Bulelani [Qolani] has been in settlement negotiations with the City of Cape Town since 2021… but the settlement negotiations were unsuccessful,” said Danielle Louw, a lawyer at Ndifuna Ukwazi.
“He has the right to claim compensation for the injuries… physical injuries, but more so the emotional injuries… as well as the harm to his dignity. The Sheriff has served the papers. The city must now respond within 15 days to say what their planned [response] is.”
Qolani told Maverick Citizen that he suffered trauma as a result of the encounter with law enforcement.
“[There is no] specific price to pay for dignity — that is why the court must take the decision,” he said.
“I’m not here to fight. I’m here in a peaceful march to demand basic services… as a human being, as a representative of the informal settlements, as a community activist.”
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Buhle Booi of Ndifuna Ukwazi said what happened to Qolani should never be allowed to happen again.
“We are here to say that the life of a black person in South Africa and in Cape Town is important,” he said.
Wayne Dyason, spokesperson for city law enforcement, told Maverick Citizen that officers applied the law to all residents equally.
“Any person who feels that they have been unfairly treated by any member of the city’s enforcement agencies can lay a charge with the South African Police Service if the alleged ill-treatment is of a criminal nature,” he said.
“Alternatively, they can contact the executive director of safety and security, chief of law enforcement or contact the city’s Public Emergency Communication Centre.”
Complainants were required to provide formal inputs — an affidavit or other relevant documentation and evidence, which the city would use as the basis for disciplinary action in terms of its code of conduct, if need be.
“We take such complaints very seriously and have an excellent track record on discipline, regardless of who the complainant is,” he said.
Memorandum of demands
The housing rights activists handed a memorandum to the City of Cape Town demanding that:
- Bulelani Qolani’s demands, as laid out in his court papers, be met;
- The city responds to social ills in a humane manner;
- The dignity and lives of black people be respected;
- The city responds to the issue of homelessness by involving social development;
- The city follows the correct channels rather than resorting to illegal evictions;
- The city provides informal settlements and indigent communities with basic services; and
- Prime land be made available to build housing for people.
“We are living in shacks that are falling apart… living in places that are dysfunctional… in informal settlements that have no trees… we have no recreation centres. This is an issue of dignity, and they must know this,” said Matlawe.
Vincent Botto, executive director for safety and security in the City of Cape Town, received the memorandum and confirmed that the city would respond within seven days.
The march comes a day before President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to deliver the State of the Nation Address (Sona) before a joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament.
Speaking on the timing of the event, Booi said, “This is the people’s Sona — these people speaking to their own lived experiences… that’s the real state of the nation.” DM/MC