Frustrated residents who have occupied vacant land in various areas across the city, blocked all entrances at the Cape Town Civic Centre in a demonstration over lack of basic services, on Thursday January 31.
The residents, who came from Philippi, Khayelitsha and Kraaifontein, surprised officials and staff when they barricaded the doors of the building thereby halting services.
They gathered at the building just before 9am wanting to hand their memorandum of grievances to City of Cape Town mayor Dan Plato.
The residents said their communities had no running water, toilets and electricity, of which they had informed the mayor, but nothing had been done to resolve them. Tempers flared and scuffles broke out between police and protesters, leading to stun grenades being fired to disperse them at the entrances.
Resident, Peter Mkathwa, admitted that they had occupied the land illegally but said circumstances had forced them to do so.
He said they erected shacks on open fields last year in February and named the area Nkandla.
He said he had been renting for years and life had been extremely difficult and in many cases he had been on the edge of being kicked out by his landlord.
He said if you had your own shack you paid a monthly rental of R500 but if you didn’t own the shack it was R800.
Mr Mkathwa said in many cases he had been unemployed and battled to pay his rent.
He said he often gets piecemeal jobs on farms and received a weekly wage of R350.
He said some residents had to use buckets to relieve themselves which was humiliating.
He said they had informed the current mayor about their plight but he has ignored them.
He said they therefore wrote a letter again to appeal for his intervention.
However, he said, through this demonstration they wanted to grab the mayor’s attention and hopefully get a response from him.
“I have participated in this march because I want my voice to be heard. Life is difficult without basic services.
“We can’t survive without such services. We want to live a dignified life. We are hoping the mayor could respond to us. We have no intentions of being violent, we just want to be heard,” he said.
Mr Mkathwa said if Mr Plato refused to attend to their pleas they would continue with their actions until he attends to their challenges. He said their intention was to block the entrance early in the morning before he arrived at the building.
Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, said the mayor had an open door policy and took all matters raised with him seriously and personally addressed the protesters outside the civic centre.
Mr Booi pointed out that the City removed unoccupied structures which had been built illegally. However, he said although they absolutely understood the acute need for housing opportunities amid great demand and space constraints that they were faced with due to Cape Town’s terrain and geographical position as a peninsula.
But he said they must also consider the health and safety aspects that could affect residents.
He emphasised that housing delivery must also continue to happen in a fair and structured way to ensure that there was no queue jumping.
“Nobody is allowed to occupy or invade land without the consent of the owner.
Every city in South Africa acts to protect land from invasion. It is a constitutional duty, but the obligation to protect land from invasion is also the result of practical considerations.
“When land is invaded, we are all affected. Illegal land invasions are affecting our service delivery plans, our social stability and the financial planning of the City. And new informal settlement areas that have resulted from recent land invasions have not been planned or budgeted for,” he said.
Another resident, Nomceba Ndlebe, said she was among the group of people who occupied vacant land in Makhaza in February last year.
The 38-year-old said she had been renting for years and when people started occupying the land she “had no choice but to move in as well”.
Ms Ndlebe said she was paying R500 for rent and it had been a daunting task to come up with amount while she was unemployed. She described their living conditions as horrible and a health hazard, particularly for children and people living with disabilities.