Shack dwellers halt City of Tshwane sale of land they live on
In a case that is likely to grapple with the questions of how cash-strapped municipalities should allocate land for low-cost housing, a group of residents in Pretoria East has managed to temporarily halt the auctioning off of the land on which they live.
On Monday afternoon, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), representing the residents of Woodlane Village in Pretoria East, also known as Plastic View, obtained an urgent interdict preventing the City of Tshwane from going ahead with the planned auction of the land on which they are living.
Plastic View is home to about 3?000, mainly poor, shack residents who have lived there for more than 12 years. The LHR wants the court to set aside the city’s decision to auction off the land, taken in November last year, in the second part of the application, which will be heard at a later stage.
Plastic View has been the subject of litigation for years. The city evicted the residents in 2006 but the eviction was declared unlawful and the city was ordered to rebuild the demolished homes. Several court orders later, and after several interventions by the local ratepayers’ association, the city and the residents were ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to work towards a negotiated agreement that would allow the residents to be relocated to low-cost housing in due course.
But in February this year, according to the residents, a notice in the Pretoria News alerted them to the fact that the land they lived on was about to be auctioned off to a private purchaser.
In court papers, Bruno Seabela, strategic executive director of group legal services at the City of Tshwane, said the sale of the land was part of an attempt by the city to raise R500-million that would go towards infrastructure development.
He said that if the properties at Plastic View were developed as planned, 25?126 jobs would be created and R224-million a year would be generated for the city.
This revenue was already committed in the 2014-15 budget to fund maintenance and infrastructure plans, even though the auction had yet to take place, Seabela said.
The city said halting the sale of the land would have a “significant” effect on its financial position.
But advocate Rudolph Jansen SC, for the residents, explained that Tshwane would save money if it concluded the negotiations first and sold the land later.
“There’s a lot to be said that Tshwane should be protected against their own folly. It’s just a wasteful way of doing business,” said Jansen.
The city then argued that, in stopping the sale of land, the court would be overstepping the separation of powers principle in interfering with a policy decision.
It also said the new buyers had to agree to a clause in the deed of sale that stated that the people living on the properties could not be evicted until they had been allocated alternative housing.
But the LHR argued that the residents were still at risk of being evicted, as they would be at the mercy of the new owners.
It also argued that the city had failed in its duty to meaningfully consult the residents – although the city said it had communicated its intentions in June last year.
The residents said the city was required to publish its decision to sell the land sooner and that this omission was illegal.
“The [city] made no attempt to inform us directly, despite the obvious interests we have in the sale of the property,” said resident Donald Banda in court papers.
About 94 children from the area attend school at a nearby church. Other children go to school 18km away because, the residents said, other schools in the area were too expensive.
According to court papers filed this week, the city has agreed to establish a township on a piece of land next to the one where Plastic View is situated. But this would only be available to those residents who qualify for low-cost housing. Negotiations are ongoing to determine what will happen to those who do not qualify.
But the city had agreed to do this because of an order of the court, issued in June 2012, which said that the city had until November 2013 to establish this “township”.
Failure to do this, and failure to comply with several other court orders, saw the matter ending up at the SCA) in an attempt to send a city official to jail for contempt of court. At the end of 2014, the SCA ordered the parties to reach a “workable, negotiated settlement” about the relocation of the Plastic View residents.