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Cape Town land occupiers not entitled to compensation from city, SCA rules

Bulelani Qolani opened a case against the City of Cape Town after a video of him being dragged naked out of his shack went viral. File photo.
Bulelani Qolani opened a case against the City of Cape Town after a video of him being dragged naked out of his shack went viral. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has dashed Cape Town land occupiers’ hopes of R2,000 city council payouts for the loss of personal possessions.

The council appealed against an interim Cape Town high court order prohibiting its anti-land invasion unit from evicting people and demolishing structures, while SA is under a national state of disaster.

The order was granted after a video of a naked man, Bulelani Qolani, being dragged out of his Khayelitsha shack by council officials, went viral on social media and sparked outrage in July 2020.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Qolani and social justice movement the Housing Assembly launched a high court application to stop the city from “evicting people and demolishing structures, whether occupied or unoccupied, during the national state of disaster, without a court order”.

The court granted the EFF and occupiers of erf 544 in Mfuleni leave to intervene as interested parties.

The occupiers asked the court to compel the city to pay R2,000 to each person who lost personal belongings during the demolition of their structures.

In August 2020, the high court interdicted the city pending the second part (part B) of the application, on which judgment is pending, and ordered the council to make the R2,000 payments.

The council sought to have the whole order overturned on appeal but the SCA found that the “only issue, other than costs, which the determination of part B will not finally resolve, is that of the monetary compensation of R2,000 in lieu of loss of personal belongings and the return of the building materials”.

The city admitted it seized the land occupiers’ building materials but denied taking their personal possessions when it demolished their structures.

“This denial alone should be the end of the matter, particularly where there is no evidence of the nature of the personal effects, the value thereof and from whom they were taken,” the SCA said on Thursday.

The high court ordered the city to return all building materials seized by the anti-land invasion unit between 1 May 2020 and the date of the judgment.

The confiscation of building material relates to “demolitions at Mfuleni, commonly known as Zwelethu, Ocean View, and the demolition of Mr Qolani’s property”.

Viwe Sigenu, who represented the Mfuleni occupiers, told the high court there had been seven evictions in Zwelethu between the end of May and mid-July in 2020. Sigenu said the anti-land invasion unit “would confiscate building materials and personal possessions”.

The city said the area straddles two properties — one owned by the city and another owned by the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, which sued the Mfuleni occupiers for invasion of the portion it owns.

This culminated in an interim interdict authorising the city to demolish any illegally erected structures on the CapeNature land, prevent people entering the area and remove such people and their belongings, the city said.

Kashiefa Achmat, chairperson of the Housing Assembly, told the court of an eviction that took place in Ocean View on May 15 2020. She said the anti-land invasion unit demolished structures and confiscated materials. However, she did not provide the names of the people whose materials were confiscated and the details of the materials.

The city said it responded to a complaint of an unlawful invasion, 10 unoccupied structures were dismantled and most of the building material was removed.

The city said the eviction was based on a high court order granted on April 17 2020. It also insisted that Qolani’s shack was unoccupied and that anti-land invasion unit officials said the structure was not there when they visited the site the day before demolition.

The city argued that all the demolished structures during that period were unoccupied and it was entitled to demolish them. It said that all confiscated building materials were stored for 21 days before being disposed of.

The city told the court that the land occupiers were entitled to make arrangements to collect their building materials from its depot in Ndabeni.

TimesLIVE


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