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Hundreds of occupants evicted onto Cape Town streets from city centre buildings after court order

Hundreds of occupants evicted onto Cape Town streets from city centre buildings after court order
SAPS officers and immigration officials have cordoned off Commercial Street in Cape Town after hundreds of people occupying buildings were evicted and remained there with their belongings on Thursday. (Photo: Qaqamba Falithenjwa)

Many of the evictees slept outside with their belongings, saying they have nowhere else to go.

Piles of suitcases, mattresses and items of furniture were strewn across the narrow Commercial Street in Cape Town on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hundreds of people, most of whom are foreign nationals, were evicted from three buildings in the city centre.

The area outside 42 and 44 Commercial Street was in chaos on Wednesday as dozens of South African Police Service (SAPS) officers and immigration officials cordoned off the street where the occupiers remained with their belongings. The occupied buildings are in close proximity to Parliament.

According to Western Cape SAPS spokesperson Malcolm Pojie, more than 100 undocumented people were transported to Epping Immigration Office for verification. “All other persons who illegally occupied the building were informed to vacate the premises with immediate effect,” he said.

The occupiers were reportedly served with eviction notices from March 2023. A court order which was granted on 31 August 2023, stated: “The first to 265 respondents are ordered to vacate property situated at 44 to 48 Commercial Street, Cape Town, Western Cape by no later than December 31, 2023.”

The August court order was granted a few days after a fire in one of the buildings that was caused due to an electrical fault.

The court also said that if the occupiers do not vacate, then the sheriff and SAPS are authorised to remove the group with their belongings.

When we arrived on Wednesday, the occupiers — some standing with bags filled with their belongings — had been told to wait outside while officials went into the buildings to remove their belongings.

One of the occupiers, Pearl Myekeni, said she received an eviction notice in March.

Myekeni said they were told that the landlord to whom they were paying rent had apparently not been paying the owner of the building. The owner then terminated the contract. “Last night, the lawyer asked us to pay R100,000 to handle this case. We ended up collecting R26,000 from the tenants, each tenant contributed about R300. I didn’t participate so I was told that I can’t sleep here.”

She said she slept at her boyfriend’s house on Wednesday night. Myekeni has been living in the building since September 2022.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Last-minute delay to court hearing on eviction of homeless people on Cape Town’s streets

She said she has had her belongings packed in boxes since December in anticipation of being evicted.

Another tenant, who did not want to give her name, claimed that “more than a thousand” people were living in the buildings. “About four months ago after finding out that the landlords were not paying the owner of these buildings, we got rid of them and we haven’t been paying rent to anyone ever since then.”

Azubuike Kanu, who said he has lived in one of the buildings for more than five years, told GroundUp that he sent his wife and children to live in the Eastern Cape in December in anticipation of the eviction.

“We were violently taken out of the building [on Wednesday]. We were transported in a truck to Langa Home Affairs to check whether we are here illegally or not. Some were arrested. They drove me to Mowbray and I had to find my own way back here,” said Kanu.

Kanu spent the night outside on the pavement again on Thursday because he has nowhere else to go.

Cape Town lawyer Junaid Jamat told GroundUp that he is representing 120 of the occupants. “We were made aware of the issue last week Friday, but the occupants had no funds for the case to be handled.” He said by the time the residents had collected funds on Tuesday, it was too late to oppose the eviction in the High Court.

“Unfortunately, by Wednesday morning the Sheriff and the police were already there evicting the people, so we were too late,” he said.

GroundUp contacted the Department of Home Affairs for additional information on the arrested immigrants on Wednesday afternoon. No comment was given by the time of publication. DM

First published by GroundUp.


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  • Gavin Hillyard says:

    What a sad spectacle. We are going to see more of the same in the months and years ahead I fear.

    • Ben Harper says:

      How is upholding the law and owners rights sad? I certainly hope we see more of the same in coming months – application of the law and justice for everyone

      • Peter Oosthuizen says:

        Upholding the law and protecting owners’ rights is not sad. However, leaving people without shelter in unsanitary conditions is. No home, no hope – remind you of Gaza Ben?

  • Vusi Dladla says:

    To the authorities: well done. Lesson for other municipalities.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      I agree. Unless we all learn to respect the law and support its firm enforcement, South Africa will collapse.

      There are many people suffering for many reasons. Fixing this will never ever happen unless laws are enforced when not obeyed.

  • Thabied Matthews says:

    They’re probably going to send them “temporarily” to Goodwood like they did to the other illegal tenants they found in town many years ago…

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      If they are breaking the law there must be consequences, even if they are not ideal. Allowing exceptions is a very very slippery slope down which our whole country will slide, into the swamp of excrement at the bottom.

      …our disgustingly corrupt government has already started us slipping fast and it needs to be stopped, now.

  • John Smythe says:

    The buildings are becoming derelict and electrical faults” are often because the residents are messing around with the electrics in the buildings. And paying “rent” to some thug “landlord” is ridiculous. There are so many evil people out there who prey on the poor and gullible. I hope the authorities are looking for him too.

  • Gareth Dickens says:

    The DA has a lamentable tendency to litigate against everything including poverty and homelessness. Capetown is part of SA , so will not be spared from the demographic time bomb that staulks this country. Baiting the public with populist “Law and order” masquerades discloses a paucity of leadership skill evident in their ranks. Leadership of social affairs requires a grasp of implication and consequence. Evicting people from an inner city building will simply displace them elsewhere; where they will become the problem of other innocent rate payers. They will squat on other streets and camp in other neighbourhoods thereby exacerbating issues like crime, waste (including human waste) and generally being a public and aesthetic nuasance to everyone.
    One of the reasons we pay politicians is for them to provide leadership. They are supposed to manage society through negotiation, mediation and consensus. Every squatting homeless person can be prevailed upon if a respectful and reasonable offer is made.
    In this case, the occupants have said clearly that they pay rent to someone – a sign of responsibility. They’re clearly income earners. They shouldn’t have been problematised in this crass manner. A person with means to pay rent can with some imagination be given a path to progress.

    People – even poor people – are incredibly pragmatic and sensible and what our elected leaders should do is get off their well paid backsides, go down to the people and LEAD!

    • Pet Bug says:

      Facts are important if you have an opinion.

      The owner obtained the eviction order, this is a private property and the owner was attempting to regain control of it.

      Has nothing to do with the DA.

    • Andre Swart says:

      A democracy is dependent on law abiding citizens that CHOOSE to uphold law and order.

      Lawlessness poses a threat to democracy and when allowed to grow, it will erupt into anarchy and violence … that always destroy civilization.

      Law and order are synonymous with civilization. It protects and enables societies to live in an orderly and safe fashion.

      For our democracy to survive everybody must adhere to all laws and regulations even the minor ones such as property zoning and usage.

      The enemy of democracy is humanistic people who attempt to elevate the needs of poor people above the integrity of the democratic system.

      There will always be poor, opportunistic people that will try to distort the rules … if allowed to get away with it lawlessness will GROW exponentially and swallow civilization.

      Violence, anarchy, barbarism and starvation wil engulf the society and country.

      That’s where SA is heading …

    • Andre Swart says:

      Every ANC politician (and others) took an oath when they were appointed over the past 30 years:

      ‘I ……, swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all other laws of the Republic …’

      But they willfully and deliberately undermined the constitution in every possible manner.

      The current ‘failed state’ is the result of their collective undermining of the constitution and blatant obstruction of justice.

      That must be prosecuted as hight treason and severely punished in order to protect the democracy.

      Democracy (civilization) doesn’t come easy … !

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Law underpins everything. If you don’t like a law, vote to change it but everyone should be supporting our laws as they stand. Not to do so is beyond shortsighted.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Mr Dickens, your bias is clear, you’d rather protect criminals and bash the entity that endeavors to uphold the law for the benefit of the people. Sounds like a very anc/eff approach

    • Andre Tait says:

      Maybe we should let some of them occupy your house illegally while you are away for the weekend. You do realize there are another billion people on this continent that might like to walk here and sit in the streets. Why blame the DA? A private owner of a building went to court to get an inviction order. The court granted it. The “tenant” are suddenly without a home. Left on the street. Just like that. NO. Not just like that. They had 10 months notice. That seems very reasonable.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Really heartbreaking, but there were many signs that warned them this was just wrong, and more than enough warning was given. After all, we don’t live in a Mad Max world of anarchy… yet.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Still cannot see comments, on articles, once this comment is posted the rest of the comments will appear.
    There are currently 4 comments not visible to me.

  • Willemse Hogarth says:

    Lawlessness should not be tolerated…thumbs up to the authorities.

  • Matthew Webb says:

    I have empathy for these people, but we cannot let this continue for their own safety as well as those that live in the CBD. The rule of law needs to be applied and everybody needs to follow.

  • Malcolm Dunkeld says:

    A dreadful situation. But like so many dreadful situations in South Africa it has been caused by Government failures – in this case to end illegal immigration and of course, the failure to provide full employment and adequate housing. The result is that municipalities throughout South Africa are forced to take brutal actions. They get the blame but it should all land on the government’s shoulders.

  • Nervina Kernels says:

    Many of these illegal foreigners/economic refugees are landowners in their homelands. Is it not time to assist them to make the lands they own productive for themselves. Clearly they are not prepared to do it on their own – despite being people of extremely high intelligence, unlike South Africans. What they are doing now is not working for anyone – it tantamount to abuse of resources South Africans pay a hefty amount for in taxes.

  • Andre Swart says:

    Where’s the 12 comments?

    • Frank Lee says:

      Do you mean “12 comments” as in the comments that people have not thought through at all or even read again before posting, or were you possibly referring to the biblical “commandments”, of which you seem to have gained two more somehow than was even divinely inspired?

  • Francoise Phillips says:

    Sadly we cannot have a situation like the huge and tragic fire that happened in a building like this in Jhb last year.

  • Dermot Quinn says:

    If one believes in the private ownership of property, then the owner has the right to access and enjoy the fruits of his labour and saving or enterprise. The homelessness and lack of accomodation for locals and immigrants and the laws prevailing pits these two against each other.
    The fact that it seems rent was being paid, just not to the owner looks like a highjacked building, an area that SA law enforcement have neglected for years.
    No individual should be liable or forced to pay for the accomodation of others. Homelessness is a state/municipal issue and requires state intervention.
    Perhaps ground up could intervene in these types of issues sooner, by assisting in getting rents paid to owners and not criminals. Land owners should maybe ask the NGO space to assist early in the process…
    Is this a possible solution?

  • Tough, we can’t have our city turned into a shanty town.

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