Opinionista Jared Sacks 4 October 2013

City of Cape Town: protecting private property at the expense of shack-dwellers

The City of Cape Town was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when it emerged that they were fabricating a law - the so-called Protection of the Possession of Property Act - to justify the violent eviction of shack-dwellers from a land occupation dubbed ‘Marikana’ by its residents.

Now, it seems that the City is still lying – this time claiming that the land from which they have been evicting Marikana residents is City-owned when in fact it is privately owned. The City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit (ALIU) has now demolished these residents’ homes well over a dozen times since 28 April, but the City continues to claim that they are protecting their own land from being occupied.

On 8 May this year, Mayco for Human Settlements, Tandeka Gqada, wrote to the Daily Maverick in a defense of the ALIU’s actions to evict residents of Marikana. Besides misleading the public by describing these illegal demolitions of fully lived-in homes in Marikana as “half-built” and “unoccupied”, she also claimed the that “the City has a right to protect its land from illegal occupation without a court order in terms of its right as the property owner [emphasis added].”

Around this time, both Gqada and City spokesperson, Kylie Hatton, were quoted in numerous media outlets including ENCA, West Cape News, the Daily Maverick and the local newspapers also claiming the forced removals from this land were justified since the land was City-owned and the ALIU was merely acting to protect the housing rights of other Cape Town residents.

It later emerged, however, that the land (erf # 597 and 150) is actually owned by two different private entities – the one being NTWA Dumela Investments and the other being Iris Arillda Fischer. It seems that the City knew this, admitted it to the media, and was in fact acting on behalf of these private landowners.

However, when the issue resurfaced over the past few months, the City of Cape Town once again began to claim that their home demolitions were justified since they were acting to protect City-owned land earmarked for public housing. As recently as 13 September, Councillor Gqada was again quoted on the matter in the Cape Times and Cape Argus. Once again she made misleading statements claiming that the ALIU was acting to protect government land. On September 16, The Con Magazine published a much longer and more revealing response:

The City of Cape Town notes the press statement released today by the group calling themselves ‘Residents of the Marikana Settlement’. The press statement makes sweeping claims unsupported by any evidence. We have not received a complaint from the group. It seems that they favour press conferences and publicity ahead of constructive engagements with the City. The City has an extensive housing database. As such it is imperative; in the interests of fairness that land the City owns and has earmarked; is available for development. The purpose of the Anti-Land Invasion Unit is to provide a strategic and operational preventative and monitoring function by complying with the Prevention of Illegal Evictions from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE Act 19 of 1998) and the City’s system of delegations to ensure that City, Provincial and State land is not illegally occupied resulting in the State organs losing their ability to develop the land for its intended use. The City will only apply for an interdict to protect its land and/or property from illegal invasions and will proceed to apply for an eviction order when the occupation is illegal. The City engages legal processes on an ongoing basis throughout its jurisdiction [bold is mine].

In other words, the City of Cape Town, and human settlements Mayco member Tandeka Gqada in particular, is flat-out lying to the South African public about the ownership and intended use of the disputed land.

Why is this important? Firstly, because according to the City of Cape Town, the ALIU is specifically “mandated by the City’s Human Settlements Department to stop people who attempt to illegally occupy City and Provincial owned land that has been identified for residents on the City’s housing waiting list [note also: there is no such thing as a housing waiting list].”

In other words, if people are occupying private land or land not allocated towards housing, the ALIU has no grounds to be involved in what they mislabel “counter-spoliation” and legal experts like Pierre de Vos and Sheldon Magardie call “brutal, inhumane, and totally unlawful”.

The City clarifies the ALIU’s role on its website, saying that instead of involving the ALIU, “Unlawful invasions of privately owned land must be reported to the courts without delay for an eviction order in terms of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, 1998.”

This brings us to the second reason that these revelations are important: by misrepresenting the issue, the City of Cape Town is attempting to mislead the South African public into thinking that the ALIU is acting in the service of law-abiding poor people patiently waiting for their turn to access housing.

Protecting land for housing sounds far more noble than the armed power of the state conducting home demolitions to defend the corporate right to profit off land originally acquired via dubious means and now left unused in the interests of speculation.

Instead of working for us all, public money allocated towards housing is being used towards ensuring the profits of large companies such as NTWA Dumela Investments. It is nothing but criminal for the City of Cape Town to be mismanaging millions of its housing budget to illegally evict poor shack-dwellers from private land.

Perhaps they are not as brazen as the Durban Land Invasion Unit’s contempt of court eviction of shackdwellers in Cato Crest. Yet, are the actions of the DA-led municipality any less oppressive and despicable than that of ANC-led eThekwini?

In reality, they’re two sides of the same repressive authoritarian state. DM


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