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Retired judge should investigate Cape Town's 'naked eviction', says ANC

07 July 2020 - 13:40 By Philani Nombembe
Khayelitsha resident Bulelani Qolani, centre, and supporters at Harare police station, where he opened a case against the City of Cape Town after he was dragged naked out of his shack by city officials.
Khayelitsha resident Bulelani Qolani, centre, and supporters at Harare police station, where he opened a case against the City of Cape Town after he was dragged naked out of his shack by city officials.
Image: Esa Alexander

The ANC caucus in Cape Town has called on the city to appoint a retired judge to investigate the eviction of a naked man from a shack in Khayelitsha last week.

The city announced on Monday: “Fairbridges Attorneys have begun their probe into the circumstances surrounding an Empolweni anti-land invasion operation”. 

The ANC rejected the decision on Tuesday.

“The ANC caucus in the City of Cape Town totally rejects the appointment of a sweetheart law firm to investigate last week’s human rights abuses in Khayelitsha as a desperate attempt by the mayor [Dan Plato] and his cabal to manage the process,” the party said in a statement.

Khayelitsha father Bulelani Qolani, 28, was seen in a video being dragged naked out of a shack by law enforcement officers before his home was demolished on July 1.

The video went viral and has prompted the city to establish an “independent investigation" after it suspended four law-enforcement officers involved in the incident. Qolani has since opened a criminal case again the city and law-enforcement officials.

“Because the firm in question, Fairbridges, is one of those law firms used by the city and has also been involved with other DA-led municipalities, we are sceptical about its ability to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the apartheid-style removal of a naked Bulelani Qolani from his shack,” the ANC statement said.

“This abuse of power and total unlawful humiliation of Mr Qolani demands an impartial and independent investigation that will deliver an acceptable result. Fairbridges is compromised because of their dealings with the city. We call on it, in the interest of transparency, to withdraw. We will not accept a finding from this firm of attorneys.”

The party said statements made by Plato and JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, alleging that Qolani had stripped off in an attempt to halt his eviction showed “they have already prejudged the issue”.

The ANC said: “These irresponsible pronouncements may already have prejudiced the city-ordered inquiry and might also have influenced a company that does business with the city.

“Only an investigation conducted by a retired judge, with open hearings, will meet the test of accountability and transparency. Therefore, we call on the city to replace Fairbridges with a retired judge.

"We also call on parliament’s co-operative governance & traditional affairs portfolio committee not to allow the city to manufacture a sham inquiry. We want the truth about last Wednesday. Heads must roll.

"We deplore the action of law-enforcement officers, but it would be naïve to believe they are the only ones responsible. Orders came from politicians. An independent and impartial inquiry done by a retired judge will bring us closer to the truth.”

On Monday, Smith said all “video and photographic evidence has been handed over to investigators, who will further conduct their own interviews regarding the incident between law-enforcement officials and Bulelani Qolani”.

He said the “video footage filmed by law-enforcement officials contains new perspectives not visible in the public viral video”.

Smith said: “This includes footage showing Mr Qolani clothed and standing outside during the operation to remove five illegal structures on July 1 2020. Mr Qolani looks directly into the camera as law-enforcement officials are heard dismantling illegal structures. This indicates Mr Qolani was not bathing, as claimed.”

According to Smith, the footage shows Qolani walking out of a structure unclothed and he does this without prompting, and without any law enforcement official near him.

Smith said Qolani paces “up and down outside the structure naked, apparently as a taunt, fully exposing himself to onlookers”.  

The video had been shot by a law-enforcement official in case there were allegations of wrongdoing, Smith said.

“Mr Qolani is visible, clothed, standing outside during the operation to remove five illegal structures. The city really does not tolerate the loss of dignity that occurred. However, footage shows Mr Qolani comes out of the structure naked without any law enforcement official near him. He does it independently, holding a piece of paper in his hand.”

Mayco member for human settlements Malusi Booi said a high court order permitted the city to remove any new illegally erected structures on the land.

“This is besides 49 structures which the court allowed to remain on the land in Empolweni temporarily until the matter is heard in full. Mr Qolani’s name is not on the court’s list of permitted structures,” said Booi.

“No eviction has been conducted on this site, only anti-land invasion operations. Mr Qolani could not possibly have been living there as he claims, given that law enforcement has been conducting near daily anti-land invasion operations at the site.”

Xanthea Limberg, mayco member for water and waste, said the land invasions were in the  pathway of a R162m water main for Khayelitsha.

"The water supply pipeline will increase water pressure for around 11,000 Enkanini residents, and provide assurance of supply to the whole of Khayelitsha,” said Limberg.

“The city has already installed 1.4km of this 6km pipeline from Faure to Khayelitsha, along Baden Powell Drive. Over R50m of the budget has already been spent, and we are on track for completion in 12 to 18 months. Anti-land invasion operations along the route are crucial to ensuring no further interruptions.

“Protests related to the illegal Empolweni invasion have further led to damaged infrastructure at the adjacent Zandvliet waste water treatment plant, where a R1.7bn upgrade is under way.”