Lwandle evictions: what went wrong?

2014-06-13 12:41
Workers dismantle shacks in Lwandle (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

Workers dismantle shacks in Lwandle (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

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Cape Town - As the government opens an investigation into the blame game over the evicted Lwandle families, News24 tries to makes sense of the human tragedy.

A fortnight ago, an area the size of six football fields in Lwandle, Western Cape, was cleared by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).

There was widespread outrage as Sanral, with the help of the police, private security officers and the Sheriff of the Court, forcibly removed more than 800 families from their homes, many of which were razed to the ground.

After weeks of blaming each other, the City of Cape Town and Sanral now face a government investigation into their actions. Meanwhile, the devastated people have been told they are to return to the original Sanral plot.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille confirmed on Thursday that: “We have agreed that Sanral must take responsibility for rebuilding 849 structures and at the size of 6 metres by 3 metres.”

The mayor has promised to build a long term housing solution in Macassar for the people, though the first sites will not be ready until November 2015.

Why were they evicted?

The land they were squatting on is private land, owned by Sanral. People have been squatting on this patch of land next to the N2 highway, near Somerset West, for years. But the land falls within a road reserve that Sanral needs for an e-tolling project, which is due to begin in six months.

According to Helen Zille, the DA leader and Western Cape premier, the City of Cape Town has “regularly” warned Sanral to stop unlawful settlement on its land, but “to no avail”.

As the e-tolling project drew closer, Sanral obtained a court interdict to evict the squatters and prevent further “occupation” of the land.

With the evictees now returning to the original site until at least November 2015 - when the first sites at Macassar will be ready - it is not clear what will happen to Sanral’s e-tolling project.

Was the eviction legal?

Experts agree that Sanral should have obtained a court order - rather than an interdict from the Western Cape High Court - as the legal basis for the evictions.

Phephelaphi Dube, legal officer for the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said that the constitutionality of Sanral’s actions is questionable.

Section 26(3) of the Constitution determines that "no one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances".

Senral did not obtain an order of the court, and has declined to tell News24 why it went ahead without one.

Who is to blame?

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has said that as premier, Zille should have taken responsibility for Lwandle squatters from day one.

Indeed, it seems the blame can’t be laid squarely at Sanral’s feet. Plus, court papers show that the City was involved on some level.

Mukelani Dimba, executive director of The Open Democracy Advice Centre, said: “The fact that the land is privately owned, does not mean that the government is absolved of their constitutional obligation to provide shelter to those that need it.”

Yet Zille has hit back that the “real story” behind the evictions is political.

"The 2016 local election campaign has begun. That is the prism through which to understand the Lwandle occupations and evictions," she said in her latest SA Today newsletter, published on the Democratic Alliance website.

The squabbling has prompted Minister Sisulu to step in. “Taking into consideration concerns raised by all stakeholders on the timing and manner of the removal, the blame game between the City of Cape Town and Sanral I have decided to establish a ministerial inquiry to establish the truth,” he said last week.

Dustin Kramer, deputy secretary general of Social Justice Coalition (SJC) said it is important to make sense of what happened in Lwandle.

“Clearly there is a lot of politics involved - there are a lot of different levels of government which share responsibility in different ways.”

“But it was a disaster that should never have happened,” said Kramer.

Will there be other Lwandles?

Dube pointed out that the public outcry over Lwandle was “probably emphasised by a rainy cold front in Cape Town” - prompting an “inordinate amount of media attention”.

After all, Lwandle follows a spate of recent brutal evictions, such as in First Avenue, Alexandra, Johannesburg where 25 families were evicted.

Kramer agrees that Lwandle was “certainly not an isolated incident”, adding that similar evictions take place all the time.

What can be done to prevent it?

To stop such violent evictions from occurring in the future, municipalities need to follow the law. They have constitutional obligations.

Kramer argues that “local governments and others are increasingly trying to find ways to circumvent the legislation that tries to protect people”.

They also need to deal with the underlying issues of proper, adequate planning for informal settlements and for the opening up of land.

“There is an enormous amount that need to be done and at this point we are facing a crisis in terms of informal settlement and housing,” said Kramer.

Meanwhile, Dimba said the issue of housing lists, for example, “continues to create more confusion than clarity” regarding the allocations process.

Research by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute and the Community Law Centre, shows that these housing waiting lists are nothing more than mere housing demand databases - they are not housing allocations priority lists.  

“A person’s name in the database does not suggest any level of priority. It is when these databases are used to implement the housing allocations policy where there is a specific housing development project that they have any significance,” Dimba pointed out.

In the absence of such available housing, experts agreed that the eviction of illegal dwellers must be done in accordance with the law.

What’s more, Dube said, evictions must bear in mind the “constitutional value of human dignity”.

The Lwandle evictions were horrific, said Kramer. People lost everything - their possessions and their homes. And then the suggestion that they be moved to Blackheath was met with angry protest by some local residents.

The evictions were not only illegal then, but according to Kramer, “immoral and unethical”.
Read more on:    sjc  |  sanral  |  cape town  |  lwandle evictions  |  housing  |  land  |  local government

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