Human settlements MEC urges the arrest of “illegal land grab” leaders

The Khayelitsha Development Forum has called for the provincial government to engage constructively with land occupiers. Archive photo by Vincent Lali

Land occupiers promise to return to land they are evicted from as they cannot afford to rent the backyard shacks they stayed in before.

Tertuis Simmers, the Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements, has urged the police to arrest “all those who are leading the illegal land grabs that we’re currently seeing across the Western Cape.”

Between April and July this year, law enforcement officials from the City of Cape Town responded to 260 incidents of illegal land invasions, said Simmers.

“It has become clear that those who are complicit and involved in these illegal events only have criminal intentions. This past weekend’s illegal invasion and subsequent damage caused at the Kraaifontein racing track is an example of this.”

He said he has already discussed the arrests and land invasions with his Community Safety and Local Government counterparts in the provincial cabinet, Albert Fritz and Anton Bredell.

“We’ll have further discussions this week with the rest of the cabinet and the City of Cape Town as it is critical that measures be found that will assist to swiftly address these issues,” said Simmers.

He said, “SAPS must demonstrate to this province’s citizens that they will not allow these illegal acts to continue. They have a duty, and more so now under the current regulations, to uphold and enforce the laws of the country.”

In response to the call by the MEC, the Khayelitsha Housing Task Team that has been formed to deal with land occupations and housing related problems appealed to the provincial government to moderate its hard-line when dealing with land occupiers. “We stress that the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements must engage constructively with land occupiers and community leaders to tackle the housing crisis. We are still waiting for a response from various spheres of government regarding our intervention proposals to deal with the ongoing land occupation,” said Kholekile Mwahla, a member of the recently established task team.

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The task team has called for an open meeting with all stakeholders to talk about vacant parcels of land in Khayelitsha and to engage the community on planned projects.

Residents of Happy Valley who have occupied a piece of land near Khayelitsha have sworn to return to the land.

Meanwhile, dozens of former backyarders who were evicted by the City of Cape Town vowed to return and rebuild their shacks in Happy Valley.

A brigade of Cape Town’s law enforcers demolished about three hundred shacks and confiscated building materials last Thursday, according to community leader Lindile Qwashu, just a week after the former backyarders occupied the land. He said, “It was a full-blown informal settlement, with residents fully settled and doing their everyday chores on the land.”

Qwashu added that he and the rest of the occupiers want the officials to talk before they demolish shacks. “If they spoke to us leaders, we would have asked the residents to take their shacks apart and leave the land peacefully,” he said. “The residents borrowed monies from loan sharks to buy building materials to erect the shacks.”

The former backyarders lost groceries, blankets and other possessions during the demolition. Some of them are waiting for the City of Cape Town to approve their RDP housing subsidies, while others are jobless because of the national lockdown.

“I wonder why the city allowed the residents to stay there for the whole week, only to come and kick doors down without prior notice,” Qwashu said.

Land occupation near Bloekombos High School in Kraaifontein, where residents still continue to occupy land.

Nancy Ncube, a resident of Happy Valley, said the occupiers can’t afford to rent brick and mortar flats for up to R2,000 in the area. It’s mostly foreign nationals with small businesses who rent flats, she said.

Most unemployed residents rent small shacks for about R600 in yards crowded with many shacks, Ncube said. “They fight over who must buy electricity and who must cook first as the electricity box trips when they cook simultaneously. They are trying to escape such stressful living conditions,” she said.

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Ncube said local landlords do not practice ubuntu and go easy on backyarders who can’t pay rent. “The landlords are also unemployed. How can they practice ubuntu while they themselves are hungry?” she asked.

There were marked plots on the land when Elitsha visited the site on Sunday afternoon. Qwashu said the former backyarders are determined to move back onto the land. “They have marked out their plots with plastic sheets and other objects so that they can rebuild their shacks on the same spots as before,” he said.

One of the occupied areas alongside the N2 has been named COVID village.

Hendrik Dreyer, who stays in a lone shack on the land, said the land occupiers left their building materials with him. “The residents gave their building materials to me for safe-keeping, but thugs come and steal it at night,” he said.

Ncube said the occupiers now sleep and keep their building materials with friends or relatives.

Hendrik April, a Happy Valley resident, said he stays with his married son and his grandchild in a cramped one-room RDP house near to the contested land. “I told my son to put up his shack on the land. He can’t stay in my house for the rest of his life,” he said.

Councillor Malusi Booi, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, said: “The City has acted in terms of counter-spoliation to prevent an illegal occupation. This is not an eviction. The City, together with law enforcement agencies, is doing its best to prevent the illegal attempts.”

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