Court blocks activist event in Woodstock

City of Cape Town brought an urgent application against Reclaim the City

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Photo of people outside court
People waited patiently for Judge Lister Nuku’s decision outside the Cape High Court in Keerom Street on Saturday. Photo: Kim Reynolds

The Western Cape High Court has interdicted housing activist movement Reclaim the City (RTC) from hosting an event at Woodstock Hospital on Sunday. The Saturday night judgment came after several hours of argument that started at about 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon.

About 300 people (160 families) are currently illegally occupying the abandoned hospital, which they have renamed Cissie Gool House. They were intending to host an open house community event on Sunday that would allow members of the public to view the occupation. The event was to include a photo exhibition. This was to be part of the regular Open Streets event in the area on Sunday.

But the City of Cape Town asked the High Court to stop the event because it believed RTC intended to incite a “massive orchestrated occupation of the property”. The City claimed that since the occupation there has been vandalism and damage to the property.

About 50 people, many of them occupiers in Woodstock Hospital and Helen Bowden Nurses Home opposite the Waterfront, came to the court to support RTC.

The parties have to return to court on 30 January to argue whether the the interdict should be made final.

The City brought the case on an urgent basis, and served notice to RTC on Friday to appear in court by midday Saturday. The City argued that residents occupied the hospital not “because they are homeless” but to “make a political statement”.

Lawyers for Ndifuna Ukwazi represented RTC. RTC stated there is “no factual basis whatsoever” to justify the apprehension of a “massive occupation”. RTC cited a number of grounds for opposing the interdict, including that banning the open house event would violate the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to freedom of assembly. RTC also argued that the urgency was unjustified as the City has tolerated the occupation for over a year.

Advocate for the City Michelle O’Sullivan argued that the open house is an invitation that shows “how successfully they’ve illegally occupied this building” and would “encourage additional unlawful occupation”. If a large group of people planned to move into Woodstock Hospital during the open house event, it would go against the “ethos” of RTC to turn them away, she said.

Advocate for RTC Sheldon Magardie countered that there was no evidence of a planned large scale land occupation.

Judge Lister Nuku granted the application for the interim interdict, prohibiting the event and prohibiting any new residents moving in and illegally occupying Woodstock Hospital.

In a statement released on Saturday, RTC said, “In their [City’s] papers they say we don’t need homes. We say we have held this occupation for 18 months. We are elderly people. We are kids in local schools. We are brave families taking extraordinary steps to stay safe and secure. They say they want to build housing but we just don’t believe them anymore. … Social housing has been promised at Salt River Market for ten years and this month it was delayed again. … We occupied public land because we too have the right to live in well-located areas. We refuse to go to relocation camps.”

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TOPICS:  Housing

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