Sisulu appoints commission to investigate Lwandle evictions

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on Thursday appointed four former MPs and two legal minds to investigate the eviction of land invaders in Nomzamo.

Sisulu, while taking full responsibility for the disaster, also announced that roads agency Sanral has agreed to buy another piece of land to relocate the people who were displaced – a move that would be permanent.

“The buck does stop with me, I am the minister of human settlements and when something like this happens, I have to take responsibility and that is what I have done,” Sisulu told journalists in Parliament on Thursday. 

Sisulu said that while the national government does not tolerate, condone nor encourage any illegal occupation of land, it was of concern that the people did not have temporary accommodation during winter and school exam time. 

“This was blatant callousness of people who remove communities on the coldest morning of the year, in rain … without, in my view, following the due processes of the law.” 

Sisulu said the matter became her responsibility as opposed to the province’s because the (DA-led) province and the City of Cape Town made it clear it was not their responsibility. “They did not think it was a disaster and washed their hands of it”.

Alternative arrangements
She said in terms of the law, she was ultimately the person responsible. There would have been alternative arrangements made for the people before they are moved, she said. 

Sisulu admitted that the offer to the displaced people (who had illegally invaded land in the first place) does create a catch-22 situation as others elsewhere might do the same, expecting the government to later relocate them to a new piece of land. “That is why I have been very agitated and angry about this because we don’t want to encourage this kind of situation. 

“Illegal occupation is wrong; it should not be condoned at any stage. On the other hand, evicting people illegally is also wrong. South Africans have to understand that you can’t get away with doing wrong,” said Sisulu. 

Asked whether she bought into the notion that the Western Cape government should not be responsible for the crisis, she responded: “I don’t know if it would be my place to say, until I see the outcomes of the findings into what happened.” 

However, she couldn’t resist taking a dig at Western Cape Premier Helen Zille who was photographed before the elections stirring a big “drie-voet” pot in a rural community. “When I went to the community [in Lwandle] I somehow half-expected to see the premier cooking for the community. You know, she has become a super chef. I thought I would find her stirring a big pot cooking for the community and when I didn’t find her, and then I knew she was serious that it was not her problem. Maybe it should have happened before the elections.”

Sisulu said the displaced community were allowed to go and inspect the new land and indicate to her on Thursday whether they approve of it. 

The inquiry would investigate all the circumstances under which the evictions took place, including the history, the facts leading to the application for, and obtaining of the court order by Sanral on January 24 2014, and the role of the relevant sheriff.

It will also: 

  • Look at the roles of the law enforcement officials who assisted the sheriff and any other official of the national, provincial and local government and any other person or institution;   
  • Establish the identity of the members of the informal settlement, how the community came to be on the land in question when there is waiting list for the provision of housing in terms of government programmes; and  
  • Report to the minister on its investigation and findings and make necessary recommendations to the minister for consideration. 

Sisulu said she hoped the team will be able to report back to her within 60 days. “I also hope their report will assist us in putting together measures to make sure that we do not have the same problem again anywhere in South Africa,” she said.

Full participation
The commission will sit in Cape Town to ensure full participation of all involved, said Sisulu. The team will be led by advocate Denzil Potgieter and will be helped by Barnabas Xulu, also a well-known legal mind. 

Two former ANC MPs, a former DA MP and a former Congress of the People MP complete the team. Introducing the team to journalists, Sisulu said: “Butch Steyn was a member of the portfolio committee on housing when I was in housing. He had the loudest mouth from the DA, he can go and solve the problems he was accusing me of,” joked Sisulu about the former DA MP. 

The other members are Beauty Dambuza and Annelize van Wyk of the ANC and Mampe Ramotsamai, who recently left Cope to re-join the ANC. 

“She is one of the people who invaded Crossroads – she’s an invader herself. When they are done with this, I want her to be part of a team that goes and educates our society about how unlawful it is to invade, so she can undo that which she has done in the Western Cape,” said Sisulu.

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