UPDATE: Bluff land invaders vow to stay on

IT’s been a month since city officials tore down more than 30 illegal shacks, displacing families who had illegally invaded the Bluff Valley land opposite Tara and Grays Inn roads.

Since the demolition on 9 and 10 January, the shack dwellers have vowed to stay on and have continued to build up shacks on the same land. Equally, raids by the city officials have continued, with the latest visit taking place on Sunday, 28 January.

READ HERE: Bluff New Year starts with shack destruction

Many of the illegal residents shared with the Sun how they felt. They claimed the handling of the situation was brutal and wrong, and that they were treated like criminals as they were shot with rubber bullets. Nondumiso Maqubela said the local councillor, COP and municipal officials arrived at the camp without warning and gave the settlers 30 minutes to remove their belongings.

“We were told to move out of the camp. Our leader begged them to let us take our tools but we were told to leave them behind, before one of them threw a burning object towards us which made our eyes burn. We stood outside by the entrance and again the Induna begged for our tools. That’s when a man pulled out a gun and began shooting at us,” said Maqubela.

She said she was hit by a rubber bullet in the chest. “It felt like fire was eating my skin. I didn’t understand what was happening and what we did wrong. We were treated like animals,” she said.

Former chairman of the Bluff Ratepayers Association, Ivor Aylward has sided with the land invaders and is outraged at the alleged mistreatment of the people. “There are other ways and means to do things, but those involved in this displacement chose a barbaric route. Firstly, why weren’t these people given a court order or a docket stating this was an illegal land invasion and given time to vacate? Now that their homes are destroyed and their tools confiscated, what is to become of them? What happens afterwards? There should be other options for them. Are we just going to be incompassionate towards them and not give them any solutions? Why can’t government build more transit camps and provide housing for these shack dwellers? They are left with nothing, no belongings, no tools – all that is left is bitterness and anger, which one day they will retaliate with,” he added.

READ ALSO: Graveyard dwellers protest for better housing

Ward 66 councillor JP Prinsloo, responded: “According to my knowledge, no-one was shot and no evidence was provided to support this claim. Illegal occupiers were given the opportunity to open a case with Brighton Beach SAPS but no such case was opened by the complainant. People were asked to open a case if they felt they were ill-treated in any way. I am not aware of any case having been opened. Law enforcement agencies gave the invaders an opportunity to remove their belongings as they were trespassing on private property and attempting to occupy land that does not belong to them.

Building equipment was taken away from invaders to prevent further building of structures once law enforcement agencies left the site. This is a common practise during all land invasion raids conducted by the municipality,” said Cllr Prinsloo.

“Law enforcement agencies conducted the operation as mandated by current by-laws and legislation. As a councillor I facilitate and co-ordinate the land invasion project. I do not physically take part in the operation as this falls outside my authority and mandate as a councillor.”

On Sunday, 28 January, the dwellers who resettled on the land came under attack again. At about 10am, according to a resident, a city official found him and another man asleep in the camp and allegedly began beating them a piece of wood without giving them a chance to get up or even explain. “On Monday, 5 February, they returned with a CPF member and a policeman. I was in the bush hiding and I watched them break down the structures again and burn our stuff. The thing is we won’t give up, we have nowhere to go. If they can’t solve our problem, we will continue to live here. As much as they can break us down, we will build up again,” said the resident.

Ivor added that a solution needs to be found as soon as possible, “These people will be harassed every day and I want to know what is our councillor doing about it. When will this issue be resolved?” he asked.

When will this issue be resolved?

 

Cllr Prinsloo said that, as Mr Aylward was not present at any of the operations conducted by the municipality, his statement that people were treated unconstitutionally is baseless and inaccurate.

Explaining why a court interdict was not obtained, Cllr Prinsloo said these are issued once land has been occupied for a certain period of time. “The people were in the process of erecting structures, therefore not meeting the requirement for an interdict.”

He said Aylward’s comments are largely devoid of fact and clarified that it is the responsibility of the city’s housing department to provide housing opportunities to residents. “It is not the mandate of the councillor, SAPS, land invasion or any other department, as this is not our core mandates.”

“Aylward’s suggestion for transit camps to be built on a D’MOSS site, an environmentally protected area, is absurd. The irony in Mr Aylward’s complaint is that he has on many occasions complained about land invasions and informal settlements on the Bluff. His comment is not based in fact and is a feeble attempt for attention.”

ALSO READ: Fire ravages Clairwood shack settlement

CLLR Prinsloo confirmed that every illegal occupier of the valley land was given a letter addressed to the head of the housing department, to assist them with housing.

“The ward committee, law enforcement agencies and community structures will continue to monitor open spaces, vacant land and any other space that are exposed to illegal activities,” added Cllr Prinsloo.

“Mr Aylward is ill-informed, making inflammatory statements for personal gain and to legitimise his activities.

The chairman for the human settlements sub-committee of the ward committee is a lawyer who specialises in evictions. Any and all activities conducted to deal with this issue will be conducted in accordance with the city’s bylaws and current legislation. The chairman has written to the relevant departments raising the concerns mentioned.

Housing is not a mandate of a local councillor, nor is it the mandate of the city. It is a provincial competence. Mr Aylward should better inform himself on legislation, instead of holding onto his crushing election defeat in 2016 where people clearly expressed their confidence in me to make tough decisions like these.”

 

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(Comments posted on this issue may be used for publication in the Sun)

  AUTHOR
Lauren Beukes
Journalist

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