Attempts to relocate land occupiers on Cape Town railway going nowhere

The relocation of communities that built houses along the railway line is at the centre of a political tug of war between the local and national government. All photos by Mzi Velapi

Trains on Prasa’s central line in Cape Town have not run since November 2019, allowing landless people to move on to the railway. It is now unclear when rail services on the city’s busiest line will resume.

The relocation of people living in informal settlements along the railway line in Langa and Philippi, have caused what the departments of transport and of human settlements have called “a lack of cooperation” from the City of Cape Town (CoCT).

This comes after the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) held a walkabout at the central line in Langa and Philippi to show the ministers of human settlements, transport and public works and infrastructure how the informal settlements affect the operation of the central line. “We are asking the community to grant us access to all four railway lines that split into Kapteinsklip and Khayelitsha,” said Raymond Maseko, Prasa’s regional manager. The informal settlement in Langa is built on two of the four railway lines.

“We were not aware of this [walkabout] happening today. I was scared that people were here to forcefully remove us when we have no place to go to,” said Zintle Benya who has lived on the railway line since 2022. Benya used to be a backyarder in Langa, but being unemployed, she could no longer afford to pay rent. “We were told a long time ago that we would be moved from here, but no specific date was given,” added Benya.

1,254 families currently live on the Langa line. They are part of the informal settlements that mushroomed during the Covid-19 lockdown as landless people lost sources of income as a result and occupied pieces of land around Cape Town. According to Prasa’s regional manager, Raymond Maseko, the central line which services Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain used to transport 420,000 commuters daily. “As an area close to an industrial area, it is important that it is re-opened so that our people can be able to get to work or look for employment using affordable transport,” said Maseko.

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A return trip via train is R12 compared to other modes of transport where a return trip costs about R50. The central line was suspended in November 2019 following a spate of vandalism on the train tracks and has not resumed since.

Dubbed #OperationBhekela (Move back), Prasa has been trying to move the occupiers away from the railway line and the relocation project is said to be the reason for the murder of Loyiso Nkohla.

The Philippi informal settlement near where Loyiso Nkohla was shot dead earlier this year.

Power politics

“Do not play politics with people’s lives and well-being […] The role of national government is to ensure that people in informal settlements are taken care of,” said Wiseman Mpepo, a member of Intlungu yaseMatyotyombeni.

According to Minister of Human Settlements Mmamoloko Kubayi, the City of Cape Town ignored their request to be present at the engagement, a clear sign to them of not wanting to collaborate with national government. “This is a joint effort because it needs everybody. None of the processes will happen without all of us collaborating. For example, if you talk about the issue of purchase and approval of land, the city has a role to play and from our side, in terms of provision of grants, and approval of business plans and services, we will have a role to play. Then the transport department, because they are the landowners where these communities are settled, will have a role to play,” explained Kubayi.

Kubayi said that two parcels of land need to be purchased for the two different railway communities, with one already having been purchased. The second parcel has not been purchased, she said, because the CoCT returned the money to national treasury. “There is no sense of urgency [from the CoCT] and it is unfortunate; that’s why I have declared a dispute and I continue to say that there is a reason and basis for that dispute. We are waiting for that process to happen, legally so,” said Kubayi.

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Minister Kubayi blames the City of Cape Town for the delays in relocation while the city maintains that its role is limited to planning.

Councilor Carl Pophaim, member of the mayoral committee for human settlements, said in a statement that the city’s authority is limited to only planning, and the provision of basic services. “The city has repeatedly and consistently made it clear that it will not take responsibility for Prasa’s central line relocation programme, or the buying of land for another government entity,” said Pophaim.

Philippi steering committee member, Zanele Ngcobondwana, said there has been a lot of talk and no action surrounding this relocation. “I hate government processes, because we have been having these conversations since Fikile Mbalula was minister of transport. The two weeks given for relocation was not for relocation, but rather for the inspection of the land,” said Ngcobondwana. Residents have voiced that if the land they are moved to will not flood during winter and has basic services such as water and toilets, they will be happy to move.

Kubayi clarified that what is permanent will be the land which residents are to be moved to, not the houses built thereon as there is a housing waiting list that has to be followed. The process of relocation is expected to take an estimated nine months because of further consultations and processes.

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