local news

by Bekezela Phakathi

Human Settlement Minister Lindiwe Sisulu will establish an inquiry to investigate the controversial evictions of shack dwellers in Lwandle, outside Somerset West.

The evictions in the informal settlement, which is on a piece of land owned by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), began on Monday leaving hundreds of families stranded in the open as the Cape winter continues to bite.

Police faced some resistance when trying to remove the families with officials on the ground saying the situation was tense. Cape Town said that the evictions were the enforcement of a Western Cape high court order granted earlier this year to Sanral.

The evictions also sparked a blame game with the Democratic Alliance-led Cape Town, the Western Cape, Sanral and national government all pointing fingers at each other.

Ms Sisulu and her deputy Zoe Kota-Fredericks on Tuesday received briefings from the Western Cape MEC of Human Settlement, Bonginkosi Madikizela, Sanral and representatives of the community on the evictions.

Ms Sisulu said the city and Sanral could have handled the dispute and the whole relocation process differently with the main concern being the interest of the people, children and the elderly. She said that if Sanral could not find a solution they should have elevated the dispute to the provincial and national government for mediation and guidance.

"What we saw in the media, the information we gathered from the community, reports we received from Sanral and statements from the city of Cape Town leaves us with many unanswered questions. It is not possible that in the middle of a very cold Western Cape winter, rains and children writing exams the whole community can be removed in such a brutal force, that concerns me... we are a caring government," Ms Sisulu said.

She said that in consultation with Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters the illegal occupiers would temporary settle at Lwandle whilst the government assisted Sanral and Cape Town to find a solution to their dispute.

"We must be very clear, we do not encourage illegal occupation of land, it is the inhumane way in which children and women are being removed during winter that we are concern about, the people will have to move out of the land when necessary arrangements are made," Ms Sisulu said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sanral put the blame squarely on Cape Town for the evictions.

"This situation might not have arisen if the city did not walk away from the discussions with Sanral to find an amicable solution to the issue," Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said.

"Despite the city’s efforts to put the blame on Sanral, the agency’s offer to donate land to Cape Town remains open," he said.

Tiyani Rikhotso, department of transport spokesman said on Tuesday that Sanral had clear evidence that Cape Town had prevented the acquisition of an alternative piece of land for the relocation of communities living inside the N2 road reserve.

"It is obvious that they used the issue of toll-roads in the Western Cape as an excuse to terminate discussions on the issue," Mr Rikhotso said.

He said ongoing negotiations between Sanral, Cape Town and private developers were suddenly cut short by the city in an e-mail message dated 31 August 2011.

According to him, the message from the city in 2011 stated: "Notwithstanding any previous correspondence, please accept herewith that council cannot advise, one way or the other, on your proceeding with the acquisition of Erf ST681-17 for the eventual relocation of occupiers of the N2 road reserve (Onverwacht Interchange), until such time as the intergovernmental dispute over road-tolling has been resolved."

Cape Town’s human settlements mayoral committee member Siyabulela Mamkeli said late on Tuesday that the city had never objected to Sanral buying land for the occupiers when this was discussed in 2011.

"It must be noted that Sanral’s statement, passing the buck onto the city, is disingenuous," Mr Mamkeli said.

"Their statement refers to historic occurrences and not to the new occupiers who have been affected by Sanral’s recent evictions. Sanral is evicting a new set of invaders. We plead with Sanral to stop this blame-game and to put the needs of the residents first.

"As the land in question is owned by Sanral, the city has not been responsible for the policing of these informal settlements," Mr Mamkeli said.