A recent protest outside Cape Town Civic Centre after the City approved two by-laws, one dealing with the homeless.
The City of Cape Town has introduced a new by-law as the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act (PIE) was not designed to deal with the current realities of large scale, writes Emma Louise Powell.
Illegal land occupations have become a crisis across South Africa. Put into perspective, since January last year, 13 900 illegal land invasions have occurred across Cape Town alone, with more than 67 200 illicit structures erected. 57 000 pegs have been removed by Law Enforcement. The Western Cape has spent R355,8 million securing sites against invasion.
Despite the disproportionate attention this issue receives in Cape Town as a result of the political imperatives of organisations such as Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim and the City, land occupations remain a serious issue across all significant Metros.
Newspapers and online media are full of photos and reports of operations conducted by Metro Police across cities in South Africa, with recent pictures of the MEC for Community Safety in Gauteng standing in a field amongst demolished structures indicating that land occupations will not be tolerated.
The Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act (PIE) was not designed to deal with the current realities of large scale, and often syndicated occupations.
In terms of this law, municipalities are frequently ordered by Courts to provide both private and public sector evictees with alternative accommodation. This allows people to occupy land, or tenants to remain residents of accommodation that they cannot afford, in the knowledge that they will be provided with housing by the state if they are evicted. This, despite the hundreds of thousands of law-abiding South Africans patiently waiting on housing databases. Just recently the City of Cape Town was instructed to provide private sector evictees with formal accommodation in Woodstock or the City Centre. These legal loopholes are neither fair nor sustainable.
As such, Municipalities across South Africa usually rely on the common law principle of counter-spoliation to stop illegal land occupations. If a landowner is able to act and remove an illegal occupier before they can establish a “/news24/home” (which remains undefined in the Act), the remedy succeeds. Unfortunately, in the context of the State of Disaster and a recent High Court interdict, it is becoming increasingly difficult for municipalities like Cape Town to rely on this remedy. An impossibly small window of opportunity now exists for the City or SAPS to stop land invaders – something that many illegal occupiers understand only too well – as the large parcels of land lost in Drifstands, Khayelitsha, Delft, Kraaifontein and Dunoon, demonstrate.
Our illegal land occupation crisis is compounded by South Africa’s economic crisis, which has resulted in continuous budget cuts to front line services by Treasury. R2.26 billion was wiped off of Housing budget in Parliament last year.
Cape Town was not been spared the impact. In May last year, the City suffered a R115 million grant cut. In August, another R118 million. Of this, R84 million was cut from their housing budget, R19 million from their informal settlements budget, and R15 million from planning.
Despite these challenges, Cape Town continues to make headway with planned formal housing programmes. The DA-led Western Cape has created more than 231 000 housing opportunities in the Province since 2009, with more than 60 000 delivered in Cape Town since 2012. There are more than 6 500 social housing opportunities in the Metro’s immediate delivery pipeline.
Despite the progress being made, no sphere of government can build houses at a rate that meets the needs of our citizens. Much innovative work is being done to bolster the provision of housing opportunities in DA run metros, but in the absence of sufficient land and budget being made available by the National government, illegal land occupations will continue to spiral out of control.
It is for this reason that the City of Cape Town Council has been forced to promulgate the Unlawful Occupation By-law and make amendments to other by-laws, such as the Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Nuisances By-law. This will ensure that Cape Town remains economically sustainable, while offering immediate social assistance to the City’s poorest residents.
These By-Laws now enable the City to fine persons erecting structures in public spaces if they refuse a reasonable offer of alternative shelter. Combined with the City’s Street People Policy, homeless residents will continue to be offered a range of social assistance including space at a well-run shelter; three meals a day; and necessary toiletries. Drug abuse treatment, EPWP work opportunities and skills training, family reunification services and social assistance such as ID and SASSA registrations are also offered.
As a result of three new “Safe Spaces” established by the City’s Social Development Department, the City has already increased accommodation capacity by close to 1000. R50 million has also been provided to organisations working with vulnerable groups, such as private shelters.
The DA and the City of Cape Town proceed from the principle that no person should be living on the street for any length of time and that every action of the City should be geared towards assisting people to rebuild their lives off the street by receiving the necessary social assistance.
If sensible and sane governance fails in this regard, our public places suffer urban decay, more businesses close, disinvestment takes place, jobs are lost and more people ultimately end up on the street. This is a race to the bottom which no City will ultimately survive.
– Emma Louise Powell is a DA MP.
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