Philippi eviction: Sheriff contradicts City’s JP Smith

| Daneel Knoetze
A man resists the demolition of his home and is manhandled by police. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.

The City of Cape Town’s version of the evictions in Philippi East on 11 August has been contradicted by police and the SA Board of Sheriffs. The Board denies that any of its officials were involved in dozens of shack demolitions off Symphony Way in Philippi. The evictions were carried out by the City’s Law Enforcement, police say.

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

JP Smith, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, on Monday portrayed the sheriff and the police as the main role players in the evictions. He relegated the involvement of City Law Enforcement to that of a supportive role. In an emailed response to a request for comment from GroundUp (see full text below) Smith 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 spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said that police had provided support to Law Enforcement, and not the other way around.

The police said that it was City Law Enforcement officials, and not the Sheriff, who demolished 100 shacks at the Marikana informal settlement on Sunday.

“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 (which) 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 SA Board of 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 last week Friday, giving the residents 30 days to vacate the site. “That was the only involvement of said sheriff,” said Mohamed.

Smith also said that 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’s People’s Movement for instigating the occupation.

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.”

Newly arrived occupiers, half a dozen of whom were quizzed by GroundUp, 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 which had been pulled down by Law Enforcement.

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

GroundUp has asked the City to clarify its involvement in the evictions and to identify the sources of “reports on the ground” which claim 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 has been erected or is 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 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.

TOPICS:  Housing Human Rights Local

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