The City of Cape Town has invoked a series of court interdicts and orders to defend its role in the evictions of shackdwellers in Philippi East. The land occupation has grown since last week. City Law Enforcement resumed the demolition and removal of shacks on a plot off Symphony Way yesterday, resulting in violent clashes.
The most recent court order was obtained on 7 August by the owner of Erf 149 in response to the sudden occupation. A draft order, handed down by Judge Patrick Gamble in the Western Cape High Court, was sought and obtained by land owner Copper Moon Trading (PTY) Ltd. It calls on the first respondents (understood to be the occupants of 69 completed shacks on the property) to motivate in court why the order against further occupation should not be made final on 28 August. The order interdicts the erection of any new structures. The land owner, assisted by the sheriff of the court, is authorised to remove people in breach of the order, demolish structures and confiscate building materials for three months.
The City maintains that it did not evict or “remove” anyone. Explaining City Law Enforcement’s role, JP Smith, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, said: “On Monday [11 August] Law Enforcement did not remove anyone, instead they were preventing further invasion of the land since all individuals invading the land were in contempt of the High Court order obtained by the private landowner. Only uncompleted and vacant structures were removed.” Smith said that Law Enforcement further attempted to prevent the offloading of building materials, but their efforts were thwarted by a violent crowd of “illegal” occupants, who attacked the City officers.
A matter in which the City also removed what it called uncompleted and vacant structures at the Marikana settlement in January on an adjacent plot off Symphony Way is currently before the Western Cape High Court. In affidavits to the court, Steven Hayward, head of the City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit (ALIU), claimed that only vacant and unoccupied structures were demolished. Lawyers for the evictees, led by Sheldon Magardie of the Legal Resources Centre, challenged this. They argued that City officials do not have jurisdiction to rule, ad-hoc, on the state of completion and occupation of a shack. Importantly, no legal definitions exist for the criteria of completion and occupation.
Judge Patrick Gamble ruled in favour of the evictees in March, and called the evictions unlawful and unconstitutional. But the City successfully appealed the judgment and the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) has referred the matter back to the High Court for oral evidence to be heard. With Gamble’s judgment set aside, no legal precedents exist for challenging the City’s definition of what qualifies as an occupied or completed shack.
Smith has also stuck by his accusations against Ses’khona Peoples Rights Movement, which the City claims orchestrated the land occupation as a political ploy to make the municipality “ungovernable”: “The City can confirm that Andile Lili (of Ses’khona) has been actively involved. We have photographic evidence of this. Reports from various land invaders to officials on the ground, indicate that SesKhona had given them permission to invade the land. Lili has held meetings with the land invaders.” In a press release, Smith stated that the current “land-grab” had the potential to be of an “unprecedented” scale.
The City of Cape Town’s version of the evictions in Philippi East on 11 August has been contradicted by police and the SA Board of Sheriffs. The Board denies that any of its officials were involved in dozens of shack demolitions off Symphony Way in Philippi. The evictions were carried out by the City’s Law Enforcement, police say.
The eviction of dozens of shack-dwellers came in response to a flash land occupation, which started late last week. On Tuesday, 12 August, in the absence of police and Law Enforcement, the sound of hammering continued to fill the air as more shacks were put up.
JP Smith, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, on Monday portrayed the sheriff and the police as the main role players in the evictions. He relegated the involvement of City Law Enforcement to that of a supportive role. In an emailed response to a request for comment from GroundUp (see full text below) Smith said the police had requested “support” from City law enforcement agencies to assist the Sheriff of the Court in carrying out court orders.
But police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said that police had provided support to Law Enforcement, and not the other way around.
The police said that it was City Law Enforcement officials, and not the Sheriff, who demolished 100 shacks at the Marikana informal settlement on Sunday.
“On Monday, people started to build shacks again,” said Van Wyk. “Law Enforcement officials came again (on Monday) to demolish shacks that were empty and those (which) were half built. People threw stones at police. Police threw stun grenades to disperse the crowd.”
Hishaam Mohamed, regional head for the Department of Justice and a member of the SA Board of Sheriffs, confirmed that the local court sheriff had nothing to do with the evictions.
He said the sheriff for the Philippi area had served a notice of eviction last week Friday, giving the residents 30 days to vacate the site. “That was the only involvement of said sheriff,” said Mohamed.
Smith also said that the land occupation was part of a “concerted effort… to promote lawlessness and to make the city ungovernable”. Citing “reports on the ground,” he blamed the ANC aligned Ses’khona’s People’s Movement for instigating the occupation.
Marikana resident Themba Nothununu, who has lived there since April last year and has been liaising with the new occupiers, challenged Smith’s claims of political agendas and organisers behind the occupation.
“This is the same old lie from the City,” he said. “This is the community taking matters in their own hands. They are backyarders from Lower Crossroads, Khayelitsha and Philippi East… There is no money for rent, so when people hear there is an opportunity and a space to put a shack of their own, they come and do so. It is simple survival, not cheap politics.”
Newly arrived occupiers, half a dozen of whom were quizzed by GroundUp, confirmed that the unaffordability of rent as backyard dwellers was the primary reason for people attempting to settle on the empty plot.
“We are suffering,” said Mzamo Ndlazulwana, 28, from the ruins of a shack, which had been pulled down by Law Enforcement.
“My brother and I came from Eastern Cape to look for work because we were desperate. I have been here for a month with no income. Now I cannot pay rent anymore. That is why I am here.”
Andile Lili, of Ses’khona, denied involvement or inside knowledge of the occupation.
“The City always blame Ses’khona instead of acknowledging the real issues affecting Cape Town’s poor,” he said.
GroundUp has asked the City to clarify its involvement in the evictions and to identify the sources of “reports on the ground” which claim Ses’khona orchestrated the invasion. The City has promised to respond and the response will be published in a later article.
Photos of the August 11th evictions by Masixole Feni – Click on an image to see them in gallery form
During the evictions on Monday the 11ith August, Police providing back-up and support, humiliated, assaulted and jeered at residents as they were evicted.
As one woman wept while the building material of her demolished shack was carried away, police gathered around to taunt and mock her.
In another incident, a man attempting to resist the demolition of his shack was pounced on by five policemen and law enforcement officers. He attempted to fight back, but cried out in pain as he was subdued by having his arms twisted behind his back.
Another distraught woman attempted to keep ALIU officials at bay by swinging a wooden post recovered from her broken down shack at anyone who approached her former home. It was her attempt to save the building materials, which cost in the range of R4,000 per shack, from being carted away on the back of a municipal truck.
Outraged residents pelted police with stones as they advanced through the shacks alongside demolishers from the ALIU. Officers opened fire with rubber bullets, sending residents diving between the shacks for cover.
The evictions come in response to a sudden land occupation by newcomers to the informal settlement. Before the ALIU and police arrived, the land adjacent to the established Marikana settlement was abuzz with activity. Scores of shacks, in various states of completion, were being erected. A first round of shack demolitions occurred on Sunday.
Some newcomers told GroundUp that the occupation was co-ordinated and planned. Most pointed to the unaffordability of rent for backyard dwellings in the nearby township of New Crossroads as the main reason for them taking refuge on the open tract of land.
“We have nowhere to go,” said Amanda Thwana, 26, as she moved bottles of water, cutlery and crockery into her new shack.
“I do not know how these (occupations) are planned; the news spreads word of mouth. We just know that we have no chance if we erect our shacks by ourselves, one by one. We have to come in a big group. In numbers we are protected, because they cannot get all of us.”
By the time the police and the ALIU pulled out of the informal settlement, many of the newly built shacks were still standing.
These are the second flash evictions to be carried out by the ALIU in Marikana this year. On 7 and 8 January, the unit demolished around 40 shacks in the informal settlement. In March, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the evictions were unlawful and unconstitutional, because they were carried out without an eviction order from a magistrate.
In handing down that judgment, Judge Patrick Gamble compared the evictions to those, which occurred under apartheid and ordered the City to replace the demolished shacks. The City appealed the ruling and the Supreme Court of Appeals has referred the matter back to the High Court for oral evidence to be heard.
Central to legal arguments in the previous Marikana evictions is the question of when a shack constitutes a “home” (the right to which is protected in the Constitution). In the High Court, the City of Cape Town argued that newly erected structures were not occupied, and did not constitute a “home”. Lawyers for the evictees challenge this. With the SCA’s referral back to the High Court, the question of what constitutes “a home” remains unanswered by the courts.
ALIU officials refused to engage with shack occupiers and journalists when asked whether they were in possession of a court eviction order.
In an email, Alderman JP Smith, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, said that the Sheriff of the Court has been trying to execute court orders to remove the unoccupied structures –which have been erected or are in the process of being erected– on various pieces of privately-owned land in Philippi East. He said the private landowners obtained an interdict against the erection of structures and that SAPS assisted the Sheriff.
Smith also said SAPS requested support from the City’s law enforcement agencies to carry out the court orders.
He wrote, “The City of Cape Town condemns the invasion of private and public land as it is of paramount importance to maintain a fair and systematic housing delivery regime. SAPS and City law enforcement agencies are trying to contain the situation. The situation remains volatile.”
Statement by Alderman JP Smith, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security
There has been a concerted effort to invade both private and public land across the city of Cape Town as a means to promote lawlessness and in an attempt to make the city ungovernable. We believe that the situation playing out in Philippi East is an example of these determined efforts to promote the illegal occupation of land for political objectives.
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of those who are instigating communities for their own political and monetary gain.
We furthermore condemn the violence that has been associated with this situation.
The Sheriff of the Court has been trying to execute court orders to remove the unoccupied structures (which has been erected or is in the process of being erected) on various pieces of privately-owned land in Philippi East.
The private landowners obtained an interdict against the erection of structures. The SAPS assisted the Sheriff of the Court. The SAPS requested support from the City’s law enforcement agencies to carry out the court orders.
Violence erupted in the area. Reports on the ground suggest that this land invasion is politically orchestrated by Ses Khona. If these allegations are true, it would suggest that this is a continuation of the lawlessness that they have sowed across Cape Town, as we have witnessed in Lwandle for example.
The City of Cape Town condemns the invasion of private and public land as it is of paramount importance to maintain a fair and systematic housing delivery regime.
The SAPS and City law enforcement agencies are trying to contain the situation. The situation remains volatile.