/ 13 August 2014

Law enforcement bounces around blame for Philippi evictions

Police manhandle a shack dweller resisting the demolition of his home.
Police manhandle a shack dweller resisting the demolition of his home.

The police and the South African Board for Sheriffs have contradicted the City of Cape Town’s version of the evictions in Philippi East on August 11. The board denies any of its officials were involved in dozens of shack demolitions off Symphony Way in Philippi. Police say City law enforcement officers carried out the evictions.

The eviction of dozens of shack dwellers came in response to a flash land occupation that started late last week. The sound of hammering continued to fill the air on Tuesday August 12, as more shacks were put up in the absence of police and law enforcement.

City mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith on Monday said City law enforcement had supported the sheriff and police in the evictions. He said the police had requested “support” from City law enforcement agencies to assist the sheriff of the court in carrying out court orders.

But police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said the police had provided support to law enforcement, and not the other way around.

The police said City law enforcement officials, not the sheriff, had demolished 100 shacks at the Marikana informal settlement in Philippi East on Sunday.

‘People started to build shacks’
“On Monday, people started to build shacks again,” said Van Wyk. “Law enforcement officials came again [on Monday] to demolish shacks that were empty and those that were half-built. People threw stones at police. Police threw stun grenades to disperse the crowd.”

Hishaam Mohamed, regional head for the department of justice and a member of the Board for Sheriffs, confirmed that the local court sheriff had nothing to do with the evictions.

He said the sheriff for the Philippi area had served a notice of eviction on Friday, giving the residents 30 days in which to vacate the site. “That was the only involvement of said sheriff,” said Mohamed.

Smith said the land occupation was part of a “concerted effort … to promote lawlessness and to make the city ungovernable”. Citing “reports on the ground”, he blamed the ANC-aligned Ses’khona People’s Rights Movement for instigating the occupation.

‘No money for rent’
Marikana resident Themba Nothununu, who has lived there since April last year and has been liaising with the new occupiers, challenged Smith’s claims of political agendas and organisers behind the occupation.

“This is the same old lie from the City,” he said. “This is the community taking matters in their own hands. They are backyarders from Lower Crossroads, Khayelitsha and Philippi East … There is no money for rent, so when people hear there is an opportunity and a space to put a shack of their own, they come and do so. It is simple survival, not cheap politics.”

Up to half a dozen newly arrived occupiers confirmed that the unaffordability of rent as backyard dwellers was the primary reason for people attempting to settle on the empty plot.

“We are suffering,” said Mzamo Ndlazulwana (28) from the ruins of a shack that law enforcement officers had pulled down.

“My brother and I came from Eastern Cape to look for work because we were desperate. I have been here for a month with no income. Now I cannot pay rent anymore. That is why I am here.”

Andile Lili of Ses’khona denied involvement or inside knowledge of the occupation.

“The City always blames Ses’khona instead of acknowledging the real issues affecting Cape Town’s poor,” he said.

GroundUp has asked the City of Cape Town to clarify its involvement in the evictions and identify the sources of “reports on the ground” that says Ses’khona orchestrated the invasion. The City has promised to respond and the response will be published in a later article.

Statement by Alderman JP Smith, the City’s mayoral committee member for safety and security:

“There has been a concerted effort to invade both private and public land across the city of Cape Town as a means to promote lawlessness and in an attempt to make the city ungovernable. We believe that the situation playing out in Philippi East is an example of these determined efforts to promote the illegal occupation of land for political objectives.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of those who are instigating communities for their own political and monetary gain.

“We furthermore condemn the violence that has been associated with this situation.

“The sheriff of the court has been trying to execute court orders to remove the unoccupied structures [which have been erected or are in the process of being erected] on various pieces of privately owned land in Philippi East.

“The private landowners obtained an interdict against the erection of structures. The South African Police Service [SAPS] assisted the sheriff of the court. The SAPS requested support from the City’s law enforcement agencies to carry out the court orders.

“Violence erupted in the area. Reports on the ground suggest that this land invasion is politically orchestrated by Ses’Khona. If these allegations are true, it would suggest that this is a continuation of the lawlessness that they have sowed across Cape Town, as we have witnessed in Lwandle for example.

“The City of Cape Town condemns the invasion of private and public land as it is of paramount importance to maintain a fair and systematic housing delivery regime.

“The SAPS and City law enforcement agencies are trying to contain the situation. The situation remains volatile.”

This story was originally published on GroundUp.