The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHCR) has once again locked horns with the City of Cape Town over its treatment of poor and vulnerable communities. It comes as the SAHRC and the Legal Resources Centre filed a court application to obtain an interdict against all evictions during the lockdown, after Khayelitsha’s Bulelani Qholani was violently removed https://www.vocfm.co.za/khayelitsha-eviction-raises-calls-for-suspension-of-senior-coct-officials-new-mayor/ from his illegally erected shack while naked three weeks ago.
Although the latest incident has thrown the issue of evictions into the spotlight, SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissan was of the view that the City is intentionally attempting to undermine the commission. Speaking to VOC on Tuesday, Nissan said that the City is attempting to cast doubt on the institution.
“We are a chapter 9 institution; we have to act impartially without fear or favour. The moment you challenge the City, politics gets thrown at you. But the City is a political institution run by a political party. Government is run by political parties and we need to hold government accountable,” he said.
“We have seen a pattern of the City of Cape Town undermining the Human Rights Commission for a long time now. When we try to hold them accountable, they deflect what they’re doing by making reckless statements,” he added.
He was referring to comments made by Cape Town mayor Dan Plato who had maintained that the City was acting to stop land grabs. The explanation came alongside an apology from the mayor to 34-year-old Qholani, who had, in turn, filed criminal charges against the officers implicated in the eviction.
“The National Government has made it clear that while evictions are not allowed during the lockdown, all municipalities have a duty to prevent the illegal invasion of land and to carry out counter-spoliation operations. We have always adhered to the directives regarding evictions and our actions are only directed at preventing land invasions during this period,” said spokesperson to the Mayor, Greg Wagner, in a statement.
“Should municipalities be prevented from protecting vacant land from illegal land invasions, we could overnight lose every open patch of land – including privately-owned, State-owned, public parks and sidewalks across the city,” he added.
But according to Nissan and witnesses at the scene, the City’s Land Invasion Unit members had not produced a court order. Although the City could obtain the order during lockdown, they would only be able to execute it once lockdown has been relaxed to level 2.
“The city is blatantly violating that right and ignoring the rule of law this country and we are saying is, just obey the order and also do preventing measures. Why do you allow it to happen and then want to break it down, even when people are inside? The City is not humane,” stated Nissan.
“It’s not about the naked man. The City went there without a court order and in violation of Covid-19 regulations. What we saw was devastating, including what we saw in Hangberg,” he added.
It comes amid an ongoing court battle over the land which is proposedly earmarked for development. Wagner stated that the City has lost nearly 360 hectares of land to land invasions.
“Compounding the problem is that these new informal settlements soon begin to demand services from government. When services can’t be delivered for a variety of reasons, (such as location on a flood plain or private land), the residents protest and burn nearby existing government infrastructure, further compounding the financial pressures placed on local governments with already stretched budgets,” said Wagner.
“Near daily anti-land invasion operations are necessary to keep it on track, for the sake of growth and development in Khayelitsha as a whole,” he added.
Nissan highlighted the same concerns over resources but stated that the City needed to be proactive. The SAHRC is also “anti-land invasions” and instead wants the rule to flaw to be carried out.
“I personally warned the acting municipal City manager at the time (alerting them) to what is happening on Baden Powell drive- please stop these land invasions because these people will come afterwards and demand water, electricity and sanitation and we will need to act on their behalf. I was told there was no police at the time,” revealed Nissan.
An invitation to respond was extended to the City prior to heading to the courts “but the City said there’s no need for further discussion” said Nissan.
Nissan explained that a ruling on the matter could set a precedent for municipalities across the country. He further added that the City should be considerate to the homeless, those who lost their homes in floods or fires or who have been staying on the land for a long time; “let us follow the spirit of the law and not only the letter of the law.”
The City said that it will be opposing the matter.
“The City is ready to contest this matter on behalf of the many thousands of silent victims bearing the brunt of land invasions, whether it be because of land lost for housing or services, or the pollution of our waterways due to uncontrolled development, or the deserving beneficiaries who get queue-jumped by land invaders,” said Wagner.
“The rights of people impacted by land invasion have been forgotten by the Human Rights Commission, but these residents can rest assured their City will continue fighting for them.”