Sunday, January 16

Cape Town passes a statute on squatting, despite protests

Housing activist groups have condemned the Illicit Occupations Ordinance that was passed by Cape Town on Wednesday, saying it will criminalize people in need of housing and those who live in shacks.

An amended statute on streets, public places and noise nuisance prevention was also voted on and approved. This statute provides for the issuance of notices of compliance to people who sleep in public places. The statute states that they must be offered alternative shelter and that they are committing a crime if a reasonable offer of shelter is refused.

On Wednesday, more than 50 people from the housing activist groups Reclaim the City, Ndifuna Ukwazi and the Housing Assembly protested in front of the Cape Town Civic Center. His intention was to put pressure on the City Council while it was voting on the Regulation of Illicit Occupations. The ordinance was approved during the protest.

This statute “specifies the conditions under which a structure can be dismantled to protect the land from illegal occupation.” Under the by law, City officials may dismantle the structure and confiscate the occupant’s possessions if it is on land under City control or if the structure is “not yet capable of making a home” on any other land. Those convicted of a statutory offense could face fines or prison.

Karen Hendricks of Reclaim the City questioned whether the statute was constitutional and said it contradicted the PIE Law (Law on the Prevention of Illegal Evictions and Illegal Occupation of Land) which prevents illegal evictions and outlines the procedures for evicting squatters.

in a statement on Wednesday, the City said the statute would address “big loopholes” in the PIE Act. The objectives of the statute are “to prevent the illegal occupation of land and buildings” and “to monitor, control and regulate the growth of informal settlements within the city,” the statement read.

“The statute explicitly establishes existing law enforcement powers to protect land and buildings from illegal occupation, but does not grant new powers or penalties, other than what already exists in law,” the statement said. The statute “supports the City’s discretion to act on behalf of private landowners and other entities when illegal land occupation attempts occur.”

Hendricks said the statute would displace landless people and people living in informal settlements and occupations in Cape Town. “The statute essentially gives Cape Town officials the power to constitute what a home is,” he said.

He said Cape Town is facing a deepening housing crisis and that the ordinance is an injustice that “will displace even more people.”

After the ordinance was passed, Buhle Booi of Ndifuna Ukwazi, addressing the crowd, said it would criminalize those who live in huts. “If my house is a shack, then it is not a sufficient home,” he said.

Sibusiso Xabangela, from the Housing Assembly, said that it is wrong that according to the statute “a city official determines whether it is worth calling a structure your home.” He said that people often had no choice but to occupy the land. He said land occupations are caused by overcrowded houses, unaffordable rent, pressure from Covid-19 and job losses.

“The City is trying to find loopholes on how they can demolish our houses,” Xabangela said.

But there is also support for the statute. A message circulating on neighborhood WhatsApp groups reads: “It is crucial that affected communities that are being invaded by illegal land occupations and those experiencing the negative effects of homeless people setting up camps on shoulders, sidewalks, public spaces and parks support the passage of these two statutes that aim to reverse the investment in the area that kills the decadence “.

The message asks people to ask their local ward councilors to support the two bylaws by voting for them on the Council. “Encourage them to vote boldly for their rights to a safe and clean environment where law and order are restored equally for all.”

This article was first published on GroundUp, here.

© 2021 GroundUp. This item is licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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