Philippi land occupiers threaten to defy court order

Philippi Horticultural Area may be developed for housing. (File, Maryatta Wegerif, GroundUp)
Philippi Horticultural Area may be developed for housing. (File, Maryatta Wegerif, GroundUp)

Land occupiers in Philippi are threatening to defy a court order compelling them to move.

About 400 people occupied Erf 12718 in Philippi in January. They have called their new informal settlement Siyangena (We're going in).

The land, situated between Philippi shopping centre and Betterlife, is owned by Oasis Crescent Property Company.

In a GroundUp report on Thursday, it stated that Oasis had obtained a court order against the occupiers on March 20 from the Western Cape High Court. The order gives the go-ahead to the sheriff, with the South African Police Service, to remove the occupiers if they do not leave.

The occupiers clashed with police in February. Most were renting shacks in the backyards of formal homeowners in Philippi.

Backyarders said that they could no longer afford paying the rent and participated in the occupation to build shacks on land they hoped to call their own.

Buntu Ludidi, a community leader said: "We are not going to go anywhere, no matter if the police come in full force. The land has not been in use for many years while we are living like rats as backyarders in Philippi. We are not going down without a fight."

According to the occupiers, the land was overgrown with bush.

"We also decided to occupy this land because it was a hotspot for rape and robbery," said Ludidi.

Ludidi added that the sheriff had told the occupiers they have until Thursday, April 12 to move. So, some of the occupiers decided not to go to work on Thursday.

"I informed my employer that I will not be reporting for work today. I cannot take chances leaving my children and our belongings unattended.

"Now the challenge is, if I do not clock in at work, it means I am not going to be paid. I am likely to lose several days' payment because I am not sure when the authorities will come to destroy our shacks," said Bongani (surname withheld), who works as a security guard in Bellville.

Bongani has been living in Philippi as a backyarder for four years.

"My landlord is now extending the house so he asked me to find an alternative. I have nowhere to go. I thought this could be my permanent home. If they destroy our shacks, then I [will] go and live in the streets with my wife and two children," he said.

Babonisile Zilwa, who is 61, said he owned a house in Khayelitsha, but it was repossessed in 2000 after he became unemployed and could not repay his bond. He has been renting as a backyarder in Philippi since then. He said he participated in the occupation because he wanted a place he could call his own.

Meanwhile, the members of the community marched up and down the land, ready to fight with the police or any officials who came to demolish their shacks.

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