Joint statement by Premier Alan Winde and Minister Simmers on interim interdict
The interim interdict handed down by the Western Cape High Court this week which bars the City of Cape Town from taking immediate counter steps to halt ongoing illegal land occupations by prohibiting the removal of all tents, shacks or similar structures which have not been occupied, not only impacts the City of Cape Town during the period of the Covid disaster period, but will also set a precedent as to how all land owners handle illegal land invasions going forward.
Whilst this order purports to be contained to recent demolition actions taken by the City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit during the course of various invasions of City land, the wide ambit of its effect means that land owners are now prevented from resisting illegal land invasions by removing tents or any other form of temporary structure from their land, even before they are ever occupied without a court order. This is in contrast to our common law position which recognises a landowner’s right to take back possession of his or her property in circumstances where it is done actively and immediately.
Whilst the extent of this right of counter-spoliation is the subject matter of a second hearing in this application, which is only due to be heard by the court in October, the effect of the court’s order in respect of part A, has been to remove both the City and any other landowners’ right to remove incomplete, unoccupied structures on their land whilst it is being invaded.
The City of Cape Town, and the Western Cape as a whole, have seen a massive increase in the number of illegal land invasions over the past few months, on both public and private land, all of which fundamentally undermine government projects aimed at improving the lives of many of our poorest communities.
These invasions are often planned and coordinated by people seeking to profit off of them and are not supported by our residents.
In this case, the court’s suggestion that an urgent interdict or eviction order is a suitable viable solution for landowners to rather use when facing these invasions is often neither practical nor viable both financially or logistically. Many urgent applications have taken months, if not years, to achieve any final result by which stage an occupation is complete. The removal of a landowner’s right to take immediate practical steps to stop the course of an invasion on his or her land before it starts, renders all landholding vulnerable and has the added implication for the state in that all such occupations then render municipalities obliged to find alternative accommodation for those occupiers before any eviction order is granted.
Those who promote or perpetrate the occupation of land earmarked for human settlements development deprive some of our most vulnerable citizens, many of whom have been on the housing waiting lists for years, of the opportunity to own their own home both because land earmarked for this purpose becomes occupied, but also because the City’s budget for such developments becomes reduced due to massive emergency housing demands that arise.
In the past 15 months, the Department of Human Settlements has spent over R180 million to prevent illegal land grabs and site invasions- with about R50 million spent in the last three months alone. This money could have funded over 1400 housing opportunities.
Minister of Human Settlements Tertuis Simmers said: "One of the key drivers for my department is to accelerate housing delivery- with a special focus on the elderly, the disabled, those who have been on the waiting list for 15 years or more, and backyard dwellers. These are the people who are most in need of housing opportunities, and the process to restore dignity will be further delayed by this judgement."
Premier Alan Winde said:"We understand that having a safe, dignified space to call home is important. We also understand that in the current economic climate, there are many people who may not be able to afford to pay their rental at this time. The Western Cape Government does not support unlawful evictions - people who have been rendered financially vulnerable in the current climate deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in this time of crisis. The Western Cape Housing Tribunal in the Western Cape exists to settle disputes between tenants and landlords, and handles complaints regarding unfair practices and illegal evictions.
We however, also believe that where an attempt to occupy another person’s land is made in the full knowledge that this is unlawful, a land owner must be able to protect their property and act immediately by removing any structures which are erected on that site before they are occupied. The ability of the landowner to do this is, in our view more of a deterrent to these unlawful actions than any threat court interdict or trespassing charges present and is critical to upholding the rule of law in South Africa.
"Our first responsibility as a government is to those law-abiding citizens on the housing list, many of whom have been waiting for years for a home and are both vulnerable and the most deserving. We have already had our ability to deliver housing slowed down by COVID-19, budgetary cuts and by illegal land invasions and this interdict has the potential to stall real service delivery even further."