Deputy minister accuses Cape Town of stalling relocation of rail squatters

05 July 2023 - 22:33
By Andisiwe Makinana
The railway line at Langa, Cape Town, in September 2020. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times The railway line at Langa, Cape Town, in September 2020. File photo.

 Deputy minister of transport Lisa Mangcu has accused the City of Cape Town of not co-operating in efforts to relocate squatters who illegally settled along the city’s central railway line. 

Mangcu described the process as complex, saying the three spheres of government were not pulling in the same direction.

“It shouldn’t be, but it has its nuances that come up now and again,” Mangcu said. 

While finding suitable land for relocation was a major challenge, according to Mangcu, the city’s alleged reluctance also complicated things. 

“We find a very uncomfortable reluctance from the City of Cape Town, from our point of view at least, to co-operate in resolving the issue,” he told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday. 

“The city is very critical because it’s not just an issue of getting land, even if we were to get land for instance from public works but the city needs to roll out bulk infrastructure, services and so forth. Without the city’s  100% commitment we can do everything we want to do [but] we will fail,” said Mangcu. 

Mangcu’s department, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), the department of human settlements and its agency, the Housing Development Agency (HDA), and the city appeared before the committee on Wednesday to discuss progress on the relocation of the squatters. 

An implementation protocol for the project was signed by stakeholders representing the three spheres of government in March 2022 but it emerged at the meeting that they were speaking at cross-purposes.

At the officials’ level, there was good co-operation, Mangcu said, but there was a public spat between Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and human settlements minister Mmamoloko Kubayi over funds for basic service delivery to informal settlements in Cape Town. 

Mangcu said while in excess of R100m was transferred to the city, there seemed to be lack of appetite from the city. 

He said his department, together with HDA and Prasa, were ready to relocate the affected people, and they too were willing to move. “The money is available, the issue is identification of the right land so that we don’t move people from one (temporary) area to another.”

Cape Town deputy mayor Eddie Andrews said “the spat” related to R111m that was unexpectedly transferred into the city’s coffers. He said they didn’t consider it a spat as the city was merely seeking clarity with regards to the allocation, and its prescriptive conditions which identified 16 informal settlements that should be considered. 

He said Hill-Lewis wrote to Kubayi telling her that the city had already budgeted for the identified 16 informal settlements but that it might consider rendering services on the sites identified for relocating the unlawful occupiers. 

The city retained R61m of the money and returned R50m to the national government. “They asked for those funds to be returned because they wanted to acquire land for the relocation of the unlawful occupiers,” said Andrews. 

He said the city was “absolutely committed to ensure that we remove those unlawful occupiers” because 40% of train users in the city need to use the line. It was also of the view that it had complied with all that could be expected of it as a municipality. 

Andrews said, as a regulator, the city would expedite every application it receives and its spatial planners would advise on what options were most viable. The city’s responsibility was the facilitation and identification of land in partnership with the provincial and national governments, he said.

Two sites were identified as the most viable and it was aware the HDA was engaging with willing sellers who are keen to dispose of the land.

Andrews said while they agreed that rendering of basic services for sites was a municipal competence, it was ready and waiting, and once the land has been acquired it would have a conversation about the services. “It's a bit premature to talk about rendering services when a site is still to be acquired,” he said. 

Prasa CEO Hishaam Emeran said they were ready to move with phase 2 of the recovery of the line and that contracts had been awarded.

Emeran said while some of the work has started, for Prasa to meet its timelines long-term relocation plans have to be resolved and confirmed. 

The first phase saw the reopening of the line to Bellville which became operational in July 2022, albeit at a limited service.

Phase 2 will see the line opened all the way to Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain. Emeran said the recovery project, which will include revival of electrical and track infrastructure and station improvement, will cost around R550m. 

He said they want to see trains running before the end of the financial year, which is March 2024. 

Emeran warned it was critical to find and communicate a long-term solution because the site to which they will be relocating the squatters over the next few weeks was temporary. 

Emeran said they had identified a piece of land at Stock Road Station (in Philippi) to relocate about 900 dwellings within the next week or two. 

“There is a willingness from those that need to be moved to Stock Road but they need confirmation of the long-term solution. They do not want to move without understanding the future plan for them.

“It's also a risk for Prasa because the land we are relocating them to is still within the rail reserve,” he said. “Therefore, it remains an interim solution because people cannot permanently settle within railway reserves.”

The corridor has not been operational since October 2019 after vandalism and being invaded by squatters.