Zwezwe residents grab vacant land

A Zwezwe resident is seen fuelling a fire in the middle of Baden Powell Drive..

While the country is focused on fighting the coronavirus, Zwezwe residents in Khayelitsha are fighting for survival and a place to stay.

The township near Baden Powell Drive erupted in chaos on Tuesday April 21 after residents’ shacks were demolished and building material taken away by City of Cape Town municipal workers.

The angry residents said they are upset by the treatment meted out to them by the City, whom they accused of failing them.

Residents told Vukani they occupied the open field when they were not able to pay their rent where they were staying. They said despite people being unable to work because of lockdown, landlords had no mercy and demanded their rent. They said moving on to the open land was the only option after some were told to leave their rented accommodation.

Leader of the group, Ncumisa Magopeni, said she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw municipal workers accompanied by police, demolishing their structures.

“Residents are currently living at a creche in Zwezwe, she said. “We were accommodated by the owner who saw our need. But you can imagine children and their parents in one space.

“There are women, men and children. This is not good for what they preach (physical distancing). Do you think we will escape the coronavirus with the way we live? We are worried,” she said.

Another leader, Sandile Stephans, said all residents were backyarders, some tenants and others had been living with family.

He said they are going nowhere unless the City shows them where they can build.

“Our pleas to the landlords that we cannot pay fell on deaf ears,” he said.

“Some landlords are not even here but in the Eastern Cape.

“ When you try to reason with them, they tell you to vacate the place. “What then must we do or where must we run to? We at least have material to build our own shacks and that is what we are doing,” he said.

He said many people who live in the township are unemployed, some do piecemeal work or are seasonal workers. He added that with the lockdown, no one is working.

Mayco member for Human Settlements, Malusi Booi said the City had removed the unoccupied structures in accordance with the court order in place.

He said on Friday April 17, the court ruled that the City must temporarily allow 49 households to erect structures on the site, but that no other new structures were allowed to be erected.

But, he added: “More people tried to invade the land. At one point, there were 600 people and the South African Police Service advised the City officials to leave the site due to safety concerns.

“Importantly, the judge emphasised the city is entitled to protect its land against land invasion and is allowed to remove any new illegally erected structures with immediate effect.

“The court ruled in its interim order that there was no breach of any regulations by the city. The City thus did not act unlawfully,” he said.