Photo: Twitter @AdvoBarryRoux

Sandile Motha

Fear and uncertainty is gripping community activists fighting the City of Cape Town against the unlawful tearing down of housing structures.

According to human rights campaigner and activist Lumkile Xolo, the City of Cape Town has unleashed a reign of terror on activists.

“Since the beginning of the Easter weekend more than 20 activists have been arrested by the city’s evictions units. Some have simply disappeared and we do not know of their whereabouts,” he said.

He said unidentified people using unmarked vehicles were also raiding activists homes and torturing them.

“As activists we are now forced to continuously be on the lookout because we are being hunted down like wild animals. The intention is to scare us off because the city believe that we stoking tensions by questioning their illegal conduct of demolishing people’s homes,” said Xolo.

The families at Empolweni informal settlement where more than 500 families remain homeless after their shacks were torn down by the city include pregnant women and some with young children.

The evicted families are forced to endure the cold weather sleeping in incomplete housing structures of what used to be their homes. The City demolished their shacks on grounds of illegal land invasion and contravention of lockdown regulations.

Sesethu James told Inside Metro that that she and her two siblings had taken a decision to erect the structures because they could no longer afford rent where they had previously resided before the announcement of the national lockdown.

“The majority of the residents relies on piece jobs for income and with the lockdown rules we can’t go out and hustle. So this is the only option we have. Unfortunately the municipality doesn’t care about our sufferings and are using excessive methods to force is out of our hard built homes. We have spent almost two weeks now in this cold weather. We have to travel for more than 2km to access water and use the bush as toilets. Most of us are without food and we are dying of hunger ,” lamented James.

Despite the special government gazette issued preventing eviction of residents during the COVID-19 lockdown, the City of Cape Town, eThekwini Metro and City of Johannesburg are pressing ahead using harsh methods to deal with what it calls illegal land invasions.

Government has also made repeated public calls against municipalities to stop evictions during the lockdown period.

The Legal Resources Centre representing Cape Town’s based social justice organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi succeeded in its legal bid to stop the City from effecting the sporadic evictions of shack dwellers.

The victims of forced evictions however say forced removal are continuing unabated.

Vincent Booi the City of Cape Town mayoral committee member on human settlement said the city had done nothing wrong.

He said only new and incomplete structures were being demolished.

“These efforts are meant to protect citizens. As you would know that in these shacks, there are serious health issues, sanitation and hygiene problems. Besides, the settlement is not budgeted for by the city and they cannot be supplied with basic services,” said Booi.

He refuted claims that community activists were being targeted and tortured, instead said the city was dealing with lawbreakers.

Mandisa Shandu, executive director at Ndifuna Ukwazi said many poor working-class carry the brunt of the forced evictions.

“We have not heard anyone from government condemning these inhumane acts. The lives of informal settlements residents, farm workers and children are at stake. National government must urgently intervene in Cape Town to avoid human catastrophe,” said Shandu.

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