Cato Crest evictions: city manager must explain why he should not go to jail

2013-09-10 00:00

DURBAN city manager Sbu Sithole will soon have his day in court to explain why he shouldn’t be imprisoned for contempt of court.

Sithole will be joined by the head of the Land Invasions Unit Harvey Mzimela after they were ordered to appear in the Durban high court.

The court granted a rule nisi (an interim order to be confirmed at a later date) that compels Sithole and Mzimela to appear in court on Thursday to explain why they should not be imprisoned for 30 days for allowing illegal evictions to continue at Cato Crest.

In August, the court granted the residents of Cato Crest informal settlement an order to prevent the municipality from demolishing their homes without a court order.

Last week, Abahlali base­Mjondolo and residents of the informal settlement went to court on an urgent basis to stop the evictions and demolition of their homes. The demolition of shack dwellers’ homes at the beginning of the month was regarded as being in violation of an undertaking made to the high court that the city would halt evictions pending the finalisation of the application for a final order.

Socioeconomic Rights Institute of South Africa executive director Stuart Wilson said: “When the state wilfully disobeys a court order, it makes a criminal of itself. It subverts the rule of law. It tears the fabric of our constitutional democracy.”

Wilson said it was unacceptable that poor residents of an informal settlement have go to court three times to stop the illegal demolition of their homes.

“It is equally disturbing that the only way to hold a municipality accountable, to enforce court orders, is to bring individual office-bearers to court on pain of imprisonment for contempt.”

Last week, the court order further directed the municipality to construct “temporary habitable dwellings that afford shelter, privacy and amenities at least equivalent to those destroyed” for the residents whose shacks were demolished at the beginning of the month.

Wilson said the second order has not been respected by the city.

Municipal spokesperson Thabo Mofokeng said the municipality would deal with the matter through legal channels.

“We will respond accordingly. As far as we are concerned, we were not in contempt of court because we demolished new shacks. The 11 shacks that were protected by the previous order were untouched,” he said.

Mofokeng said the city officials only flattened the new shacks in the area. He said the proliferation of shacks was setting the city back in its war to eradicate slums.

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