Illegal settlers ‘victorious’

2016-08-23 06:00
The United Homeless People Development Association says they are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after the Western Cape High Court instructed the City to start building houses on the piece of land that they illegally occupied. PHOTO: TIYESE JERANJI

The United Homeless People Development Association says they are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after the Western Cape High Court instructed the City to start building houses on the piece of land that they illegally occupied. PHOTO: TIYESE JERANJI

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Members of United Homeless People Development Association say they feel victorious after the Western Cape High Court ruled in their favour to get houses.

But, while the ruling does not guarantee them houses, chairperson of the association, Howard Soetwater, says the ruling is a step closer to warmth and comfort after having to endure terrible winters for years.

The group was taken to court by the City of Cape Town after they illegally occupied a piece of land near Cresta Way High School. After they erected the shacks, Law Enforcement officers demolished them.

Out of anger they took to the streets and burnt tyres, saying they are tired of being backyard dwellers and need the City to help them (“Tyre burning a call for help”, People’s Post, 15 March).

“On Monday 1 August the court instructed the City to start building houses on the piece of land that we illegally occupied. When we went to court, we had no money, but we had hope. We had suffered enough,” Soetwater says.

Shireen Gang, a mother of two, says: “I stayed on this open field for 10 years with my children sleeping under a shrub. It was difficult. When we protested and our things were taken by Law Enforcement, I had to separate from my children. I had to stay somewhere and they are elsewhere. That is not good. Due to the fact that we don’t have a home to call our own, a family bond is broken. I feel so happy that the court ruled in our favour. We have suffered enough. We hope the City will start building houses for us now,” says Gang.

Shepard Makhubalo (50) says he has been homeless for a long time. “I move from one place to another with all my things in a shopping bag. While I’m on the road I pray that no one finds my blankets where I hid them. I sleep outside and that makes me vulnerable. I move spots at least three times a night when I hear people talking because I don’t feel safe. So I have to move around to keep safe. You can’t sleep at all. I feel so happy now that the court has ordered the City to build houses for us. It gives me so much hope,” he says.

Soetwater says they identified four pieces of vacant land that the court has now ordered be developed for houses.

“For years the land has been vacant. We are struggling so much, yet the land is not used. We are happy that the court has ordered they have to be developed so that we have houses. We have been through terrible winters outside. Others have been struggling in the hands of landlords that mistreat them as well with sky-rocketing rentals.”

Ebrahim Sawyers (60), who has been a backyarder for the past 27 years, says it’s the worst thing.

Jirre, it’s k*k ... It’s like you don’t have a life. You have to live like a slave just because you don’t have a house. Rent is expensive. Electricity finishes before the end of the month and you have to top up. Your children don’t even have a space to play. 

“There is always trouble but because you don’t have a place to stay you just have to oblige. Enough is enough. We want something of our own. For years we have been helping landlords to finish paying up their bonds,” he says.

Benedicta van Minnen, Mayco member for Human Settlements says the final Court Order, interdicting persons from illegally occupying or attempting to illegally occupy the land in question, was granted.

“As per the court papers, the association was informed that only once all of the City’s processes had been completed and all the relevant approvals had been obtained, could the City’s Human Settlements Directorate then commence the process of planning a specific housing development in respect of the relevant properties.

“It was also emphasised to the UHDA that, in the event that the Human Settlements Directorate was to obtain the necessary approvals to commence with a housing development in respect of the relevant properties, this would not mean that members of the UHDA would be given preference in respect of the housing opportunities arising from any such project.

“The Court has ordered that the City proceed in executing and adhering to its policies. It emphasised that no person may take the law into their own hands, as was attempted in this case,” he says.

Soetwater says the mere fact that the court has ordered the City to look into their plight is a victory for them. “We haven’t touched on the nitty gritties of who will get the houses. For us the mere fact that at least something is being done we are happy.

“The court said if the City acts in a way that we don’t like we can go back to them so we are in discussions with them. If it doesn’t go the way its supposed to, we will go back to court. However the last meeting we had with the City was fruitful.”

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