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The history of Siqalo informal settlement and hopes for a new beginning

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“IsiQalo” means ‘the beginning’ in isiXhosa.

Residents of Siqalo informal settlement near Mitchells Plain, though, will have to wait a while still to see if they will be given a new beginning, as the land they are on is privately owned and apparently prone to flooding.

Their future hangs in the balance as city and provincial authorities meet with community leaders to broker a way forward.

Informal settlements mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg said provincial Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela had arranged a meeting for Saturday in which the city and province would present the Mitchells Plain and Siqalo communities with a “package of potential solutions”.

This package included the proposal of alternative land parcels for the relocation of Siqalo residents and residents of some other surrounding informal settlements, she said.

Violent protests by residents have taken place in the area over service delivery.

The protesters barricaded several entrance and exit roads to Mitchells Plain. This in turn, sparked the ire of Mitchells Plain residents who said they were frustrated at having to bear the brunt of the protest.

A 21-year-old man was also killed on Wednesday after a taxi ploughed into a group of protesters.

Eviction a ‘humanitarian disaster’

The struggle for a decent life has been a long time coming.

People flocked to the land in increasing numbers after being evicted from backyard shacks in informal settlements and townships in Philippi, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu from the end of 2011, according to a brief by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, which assisted the occupiers in court along with the Legal Resource Centre (LRC).

“They were driven to occupy the properties out of necessity,” according to court papers that were filed on behalf of the occupiers after the land owners went to court to evict them off their land.

The two pockets of land belong to private owners Robert Ross Demolishers and Lyton Props.

Ross operated a sand mining business from his property, while Lyton’s property remained vacant and unused for many years.

The land consists largely of sand dunes covered by vegetation.

At the time of the application in the Western Cape High Court in 2012/13, it was estimated that about 6 000 people in around 1 600 households were affected.

The occupiers’ legal team argued in papers at the time that “the eviction of the isiQalo informal settlement would be nothing short of a humanitarian disaster. There is no serious dispute that the residents’ eviction would leave them, and at least 406 children, on the streets”.

They also acknowledged that both owners had offered to sell or lease their properties to the City or be expropriated by it.

The City argued in papers that they could neither lease nor buy the properties because they were unsuitable for permanent housing developments.

In response, the occupier’s lawyers said this entirely missed the point because these options were merely an interim arrangement to stave off a housing crisis until the City could come up with a plan.

Fire and flood risks

In 2013, Judge Patrick Gamble ruled that people could remain on the land pending a further order.

He gave deadlines to national, provincial and city officials to provide the court with information on vacant land they had in Cape Town that was suitable and available for emergency housing.

A social survey of the number of people on the land was apparently also done by agreement between the parties.

By 2013/2014, the LRC estimated in its annual report that around 8 000 people were living on the land.

“The vast majority of the residents of Isiqalo are unemployed. Those who have formal employment, receive low wages. Most of the residents earn a living in the informal sector selling fruit and vegetables. A substantial number of the residents have no other form of income except for child support grants,” the LRC states.

The City said in a statement on Thursday that some 2 291 structures were erected on the land.

At present, it collected refuse weekly and provided taps on the periphery.

It also serviced 200 chemical toilets and 2 000 portable flush toilets in the settlement.

The community was demanding that the City purchase the land from the current land owner for more comprehensive services to be provided.

“Land invasions often result in inhabitable land being occupied where there are either flood or fire risks. This makes it challenging for formal services to be rendered or for future development to take place,” said Limberg.

“The provision of further services such as electricity are hampered due to the private ownership of this land which makes it illegal for the City to install bulk infrastructure.”

City representatives met twice with Siqalo leaders on Wednesday and held another meeting on Thursday to try to find solutions to the current impasse.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s bodyguards had to escort her from the community meeting in Mitchells Plain on Thursday afternoon after residents turned on her.

Moments earlier, residents from Mitchells Plain and Siqalo had shaken on an agreement to stop fighting after tensions between the two came to a head on Wednesday evening.

[Source:  Times Live]
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