Court tells Cape Town to return seized building material to 'illegal land occupiers'

20 April 2020 - 16:31 By Philani Nombembe
Khayelitsha residents rebuild their homes after the high court in Cape Town ruled that they can remain on the city land until their case is heard in full after the coronavirus lockdown.
Khayelitsha residents rebuild their homes after the high court in Cape Town ruled that they can remain on the city land until their case is heard in full after the coronavirus lockdown.
Image: Esa Alexander

Cape Town announced on Monday that it had returned seized building material to 49 households that were removed from municipal land in the middle of the lockdown.

On Friday, the high court in Cape Town ruled that residents of Empolweni informal settlement, in Khayelitsha, could return to the land where their shacks were demolished. The court also ordered the city to return the seized building material. However, the merits of the case will be heard in full after the lockdown.

“The City of Cape Town has delivered material to 49 households who illegally occupied a piece of land in Khayelitsha so as to adhere to the interim court order for temporary relief to these illegal occupiers during the remainder of the Covid-19 crisis. The court will assess the merits of the case after the lockdown ends.

“The judge emphasised that the city is entitled to protect its land against land invasion and is allowed to remove any new illegally erected structures with immediate effect. The court ruled in its interim order that there was no breach of any regulations by the city,” the city said in a statement.

Empolweni informal settlement residents insist that they were living in the homes that were demolished by Cape Town officials, contrary to the city's claim that the structures were uninhabited.
Empolweni informal settlement residents insist that they were living in the homes that were demolished by Cape Town officials, contrary to the city's claim that the structures were uninhabited.
Image: Esa Alexander

The city said there were no people on the land when it demolished the structures, “contrary to misinformation”.

But Empolweni informal settlement resident Nomathemba Gqum said they lived in the structures when authorities tore them apart.

“The city claimed that the structures were empty and that is a lie,” said Gqum. “There were items such as cupboards, fridges and beds inside. They broke them. They demolished the structures while you were inside. They don’t care about the people.”

Fellow resident Nyameka Mantambo said: “We feel very happy that the court allowed us to stay here. This will allow our children to have a roof over their heads because we are suffering. We are just happy about this development.”

Parliament has raised concern over municipalities’ decisions to evict land invaders during the lockdown. In a statement at the weekend, Machwene Semenya, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on human settlements, water and sanitation, said she had “concerns over alleged evictions carried out by municipalities in Durban, Lawley in Johannesburg and in Cape Town”.

Semenya descried the “evictions” as “unfortunate and inappropriate”.

“The evictions glaringly diminish the intentions of the lockdown and expose the already vulnerable people to Covid-19 and other harmful elements such as crime and rain,” said Semenya.

“When the president and the executive announced that there would be no evictions, we understood that those instructions would be respected by all. It is therefore unacceptable that municipalities have undermined the spirit of the lockdown and have shown clear disdain and lack of empathy for the people, especially the poor. We urge the municipalities to desist and refrain from any planned evictions henceforth, and to abide by the regulations.”

Semenya also condemned illegal occupation of land.

“Illegal occupation of the land undermines the law of the country and should not be tolerated,” she said.


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