A committee probing the evictions of illegal shack dwellers in Lwandle has all the hallmarks of a “political hit squad”, Western Cape premier Helen Zille said in Cape Town on Tuesday.
“Its terms of reference are primarily framed to look at whether the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape are to blame for this issue,” she told reporters.
“We are as keen as anyone else to establish the facts in the light of conflicting claims, but from the outset we knew that this committee, its establishment, composition and terms of reference raised more questions than answers …”
Zille questioned why Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu had not set up inquiries to investigate subsequent evictions in Durban, and Zandspruit and Alexandra in Johannesburg.
Sisulu’s spokesperson, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, refuted her claims, saying national government had intervened after Zille and the city had gone on record to say the evictions were not their responsibility.
He said mayors in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal had taken responsibility for evictions in their areas.
“This is an independent inquiry led by a senior advocate … This is not a political inquiry,” Mabaya said.
The high court sheriff and police officials burned down and demolished about 200 illegally erected shacks on June 2 and 3.
The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), which owns the road and verges, obtained a court order to remove the people from its land.
The inquiry began its hearings in Cape Town on Monday.
Zille said the inquiry committee effectively gave the province, its human settlements department and the city one working days’ notice to prepare an oral submission for later on Tuesday.
“If they were really serious about our views, they wouldn’t give us one day’s notice,” she said.
But she conceded that they still would not have given oral presentations if given more time to respond, as they took issue with the inquiry itself.
The city and province had opted for a written submission and reserved their right to comment on the inquiry’s findings.
The provincial human settlements department declined the inquiry’s invitation because it was not directly involved in the evictions and felt it would be “potentially legally questionable”, and a waste of money and time, to present its limited evidence verbally.
Lwandle inquiry spokesperson Vusi Tshose said they were surprised to receive letters on Monday night indicating a refusal to give evidence orally.
He said the inquiry would continue its work and called on the provincial government to reconsider its position.
The late notice given to parties had been unavoidable.
“We are working under very tight deadlines. You will recall the minister [Sisulu] has not even given the inquiry a space to break,” Tshose said.
“We had to work backwards and get straight to the chase and get people to come and submit.”
A question of legality
Zille wanted to know what the legal basis was for Sisulu setting up the inquiry and why intergovernmental procedures had not been followed, as required by law and the Constitution.
She said when she established a commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, it had taken two years to complete all intergovernmental processes.
Zille felt the committee members chosen for the task were questionable as they had close ties to the ANC.
Mabaya said people could participate both professionally and politically.
“There is nothing wrong with being a member of the ANC. It does not make you less professional. These are former members of Parliament. They know their rights from wrongs.”
Zille said she would launch court action should any inquiry findings or recommendations impinge on the rights or powers of her government.
The Lwandle inquiry was tasked with establishing who the affected residents were and why they occupied the land while there was a waiting list for the provision of government housing. – Sapa