Khayelitsha residents win court victory against City of Cape Town

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Empolweni residents, legal representatives, and community activists from Khayelitsha CAN outside the Western Cape High Court which ruled that residents whose shacks were demolished can return to the land. (Photo: Zacharia Mashele, GroundUp)
Empolweni residents, legal representatives, and community activists from Khayelitsha CAN outside the Western Cape High Court which ruled that residents whose shacks were demolished can return to the land. (Photo: Zacharia Mashele, GroundUp)

Residents of the Empolweni informal settlement, whose homes were demolished by the City of Cape Town, were victorious in the Western Cape High Court on Friday, GroundUp reports.

Western Cape High Court Judge Bryan Hack ruled that the City must allow 130 people to return to Empolweni and must give back the residents their building materials. Where material has been damaged, the City is to ensure that there is sufficient material for all 49 homes to be rebuilt.

The relief relates only to the matters of restoration of materials and permission to return to the land. It was brought to court as an urgent application on Friday. 

The matter will be heard in full after the Covid-19 lockdown has ended.

Structures 

The order is contingent on no more people moving to the site. The Empolweni community has agreed to prevent further erection of structures on the site. If they are unable to prevent further building, they are to report this to the City through their attorneys at the Legal Resources Centre.

READ | Homes and shacks torn down in Joburg

Civil society organisations – the Social Justice Coalition and Ndifuna Ukwazi – have agreed to assist the residents with the implementation of the order.

Outside court, Buhle Neo, speaking for the Khayelitsha Community Action Network (CAN) which has been supporting the residents of Empolweni, said he accepted the ruling and that his primary concern, that people are housed, has been met.

The residents of Empolweni were represented by advocates Ismail Jamie and Michael Bishop, and their attorneys were Khensani Motileni and Anneline Turpin of the Legal Resources Centre.

No eviction

Mayoral committee member for human settlements Malusi Booi says, however, that the residents were never evicted.

"In Khayelitsha, the City removed illegally erected unoccupied structures in accordance with an interdict that prohibits further and attempted invasion on the site in question. This was not an eviction in terms of the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act."

According to Booi, there had been a "rapid increase in attempted illegal occupations during the national Covid-19 crisis".

"The National Disaster Declaration, unlike what is being reported, does not place a moratorium on the removal of unoccupied structures."

Booi said the City will comply with the interim order. "The City is allowed to remove any new illegally erected structures with immediate effect. Land invasions are illegal. The judge acknowledged this aspect and emphatically denounced land grabs."

Booi said the land was earmarked for the expansion of basic services infrastructure and, if lost, the City will not be able to cater to the increased demand.

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