Not In Our Neighbourhood (Part I)

EXPOSED: The hidden faces behind the Nomzamo evictions

Women and Children: The hardest hit by the winter morning violent eviction.

In Brief

  • Our investigation into this debacle reveals a cartel of politicians, civil servants, lawyers and privileged individuals responsible for the forced evictions and shack demolitions in Nomzamo Township in Cape Town
  • Claims by South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) - the owners of the land the evictees occupied - that it intended to use the land to expand the N2 Freeway is questionable, according to experts who noted the existing high-voltage power-lines and several property developments in the area
  • It turns out that some privileged individuals in the neighbourhood weren’t comfortable with shack dwellers living in their backyard and repeatedly petitioned the Anti-Land Invasion Unit, and hired lawyers to force SANRAL to evict the squatters
  • The action taken by SANRAL’s Western Cape Regional Manager, Jacobus Cornelius van der Watt, prior to the eviction begs for more redress including abuse of office and possible contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell

Misplaced fears, manipulations, lies, suspicions and finger-pointing… when the dust had settled, a plot that we can now reveal took less than twenty-four hours to brood and hatch, left hundreds of families out in the cold.

The images - toddlers crawling under barbed wire rolled out by the police, a schoolgirl crying for her lost school books, a man brutally pinned down by
police officers - will haunt most of us for a very long time. In the subsequent days, some organisations took action and supplied aid to the victims. Many of us, warm and safe in our homes, didn’t bother to check what had led to the forced eviction of fellow citizens who had used a vacant and unused piece of land owned by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) to build the shacks they called their homes. In fact, some callers on local radio talk shows commented; “those people got what they deserved”. The silence from City Hall was deafening: the mayor, Patricia de Lille, failed to take any responsibility for the tragic incident, and it appears to have been left to the premier, Helen Zille, to defend the City of Cape Town.

uSpiked’s journalists, with the help of legal experts, have managed to piece together the puzzle of what led to this human catastrophe, and our investigations reveal the identities of the main characters responsible for such callous and inhumane treatment of the less-fortunate members of our society.

Our Future Leaders: A dream interrupted when a schoolgirl returns home for lunch only to find everything they ever owned gone

In these two exclusive reports, uSpiked team not only reveals how the legal system was manipulated, but also identifies every person involved and the role he or she played in this sorry saga.

At the centre of the story are the City of Cape Town’s controversial Anti-Land Invasion Unit of the City’s Human Settlements, the Western Cape regional manager of SANRAL, attorneys from a private law firm, judicial officials, and eleven privileged individuals who did everything within their means to remove these families from their homes.

Our investigation traced the Nomzamo Saga back to December 2005 when a private company, Farm One Zero Five Six Die Bos (Pty) Ltd. (Registration No. 79/05534/07), handed the 24.45 hectares chunk of land to the South African National Roads Agency.

Recent media reports have mentioned SANRAL’s claims that it intended to use the portion of land to expand the N2 Freeway, but civil and electrical engineers we consulted have categorically negated that claim. This portion of land lies under high-voltage power-lines, which means it “cannot be advisable for a motorway – roads can cross under such power lines but not run underneath them”.

Records obtained by our team from the office of the Surveyor General (SG) state: “By Notarial Deed 159/61 dated 22/2/1961 the property is subject to a perpetual servitude of power-line in favour of the Electricity Supply Commission… (now Eskom).”

Our consulting engineers (who wish to remain anonymous for fear of losing contracts from big corporates) maintain that there is no possibility that SANRAL could have been allowed to construct a motorised freeway running underneath these high-voltage power-lines.

High-Voltage power lines just above the claimed highway expansion area

Furthermore, considering the distance between the current N2 Freeway and the site of demolition/evictions (967 metres as per our GPS), and the several approved property developments that have been constructed between the freeway and the site, SANRAL cannot argue convincingly that it required this portion for the expansion of the freeway. So why exactly did SANRAL demand occupancy of this land, and why now? What motivated SANRAL to attempt to obtain an urgent High Court application?

It is said that the devil is in the detail; that is what we set off to flush out, and we certainly did.

Sometime late last year, a group of “backyard” dwellers decided to establish their own semi-permanent homes (shacks) on the land in question, a move, which evoked fear in a small number of, privileged members of the public. And therein began this Machiavellian scheme to ensure that the shack dwellers would be dispossessed of their ‘homes’ and belongings, and evicted from the unused strip of land.

Records in our possession show that a certain developer [whose identity we know, but have decided to withhold for the present to safeguard the security and safety of persons who may not have endorsed the scheme], whilst marketing properties close to the area that the squatters were inhabiting, had provided an assurance to potential purchasers that their neighbourhood would remain “free of shack dwellers”.

In one such document, a “privileged” citizen residing within the Strand area, whose identity we also withhold for similar reasons, comments: “When we bought the property, we were informed by the Municipality that the open field behind ******* belonged to SANRAL, and that a highway was to be built in the near future.”

Further records unearthed during our investigations show that the same private citizen repeatedly called on police officers from the Strand Police Station to demand the removal of the “undesirables” and their structures from SANRAL’s land. The first call prompted the police to arrive in the morning of January 4, 2014, whereupon they proceeded to demolish the few structures that had already been erected.

The same individual made similar calls to the police on January 18, but in this instance the group of officers who visited the developing squatter camp appeared to have some respect and knowledge of the rule of law and they declined to take any action without a judicial order. They reportedly left after determining that the dwellers were “not interfering with anybody.”

Seemingly infuriated by the police’s failure to enforce their illegal instructions, “certain individuals” petitioned the City of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit to assist in the eviction. The Unit recognized that they had no locus standi to effect an eviction, but some sympathetic person or persons within the Unit decided to put pressure on SANRAL to do their dirty work on behalf of the complaining neighbours.

On 22 January 2014 (four days after the aborted illegal eviction), the Anti-Land Invasion Unit sent an unsigned letter to Jacobus Cornelius van der Watt, SANRAL’s Western Cape Regional Manager, threatening, among other things, to evoke Section 6 of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act against SANRAL.

The letter read in part:

“The structures and occupants pose a danger to themselves and to the public in terms of:

  • Health and safety
  • No toilet, water and/or refuse removals are available
  • No building plans have been submitted for these structures”. 

Whilst our team appreciates the need to address the first two items, we were left confused as to why the City of Cape Town would require that plans for shacks be submitted for approval. We know of several areas within the jurisdiction of the City where privileged individuals have proceeded to modify their homes, build car ports, and even to erect new permanent structures without obtaining any approvals from the City whatsoever. There are some areas where whole property development projects have been completed without plans ever having been submitted for approval.

Some of the individuals in question subsequently used high-priced attorneys to assist in securing post-development building plans approvals. Yet these poor slum dwellers were expected to submit plans for their plastic and makeshift cardboard shelters? Also, uSpiked has been informed that, according to building codes, planning permission is not required in townships and squatter camps.

Despite this threatening letter, SANRAL’s regional manager did not seem to have sufficient grounds to force an immediate eviction, and that is when he decided to seek the services of a firm of attorneys called Chennells Albertyn: Attorneys Notaries & Conveyancers It would appear that the attorneys also recognised that Van der Watt did not have the prerequisites for an urgent eviction order, and this seems to have been drawn to his attention.

[The choice of this law firm is in itself suspect. The firm is known to always put human values before any financial gains. This is visible from the various cases they have been known to accept. In normal circumstances, it would have been expected to see Chennells Albertyn Attorneys being listed as the defenders of the shack dwellers, which makes us wonder whether the decision to retain them was technically meant to prevent them from representing the shack dwellers].

Our investigations can further reveal that on the same day (22 January 2014), another private citizen residing within the same area called for a meeting of fellow citizens, whom he described as “concerned residents available”,  and requested of them to send him letters of concern with regard to the “illegal land invasion of the SANRAL area directly behind our complex.” This, he assured those in agreement with him, would provide SANRAL with the necessary grounds to forcefully remove the “undesirables” from their neighbourhood.

Soon after that meeting, a further ten private citizens responded to his call and submitted the required emails. [Although we have copies of these emails and a handwritten letter, uSpiked has decided to refrain from identifying and publishing them in order not to worsen an already-volatile situation. We shall however make them available to the commission set up by the Minister for Human Settlement. We would also not hesitate to publish them at a later stage should a satisfactory conclusion to this travesty of justice not be reached.]

Below are samples of the emails, (which all have similar tones):

  • Writer A: “…This development is causing us, and the other home owners’ [sic] severe discomfort…Since the squatters have [sic] occupied the land, there are burglaries at the complex… disruptive increase in noise…”
  • Writer B: “…As there have already been a number of robberies in the area, and even a few in our complex in the recent times, I fear what will happen next…”
  • Writer C: “…this has caused us to worry about the safety of our house and belongings… Do we have to wait until the children are raped and the older people are murdered before something gets done about this?”
  • Writer D: “As owner of Strand Ridge [sic] I feel that Resident’s [sic] Safety, Security and Hygiene are at Risk, due to the squatters camp being set up. … Flies becoming such a problem, that it is almost impossible to cook any food at this stage. Diseases etc. will creep in within no time at all!!!! This is a huge health risk!!!!”
  • Writer E “…Since they started with the plots, they have broken into 2 houses and stole 2 bicycles from 2 other houses – one from the enclosed backyard…”

Whilst our investigations confirmed some reported cases of burglary within the Strand/Lwandle areas (not just in Nomzamo), there is no evidence that could directly be linked to any specific shack dweller(s) from the contentious site.

The private individual who had facilitated the letter-writing ‘competition’ had concluded his own missive by stating: “We support SANRAL in getting a court interdict as we are worried about the safety of our families, the security of our belongings and the hygiene problems that could arise as there is no clean drinking water, or toilet facilities in the area.”

How did he know that SANRAL was going to apply for an interdict?

In his affidavit deposed on January 24, 2014 (two days after the letters were solicited), SANRAL’s Van der Watt annexed the eleven letters written just two days earlier, which he stated were self-explanatory. Did he take any time to authenticate the validity of the claims contained in the letters?

This was no tropical cyclone or hurricane, but the aftermath of the eviction

Only a fool would believe these letters were sourced independently. When we examined them, we found them to be extremely uniform in tone and content, suggesting that it is highly likely they were instructed by a single source or that the nature of the content was supervised by someone who was seeking to achieve his or her desired results. Why were similar letters not requested from all residents of the Strand area? And why were all the letters delivered between 9 p.m. of the evening of the meeting and midday the next day?

We are aware that SANRAL was not under any kind of pressure nor had they any intention of expanding the N2. We also know that the corporation did not have any legal grounds on which to seek an urgent High Court application at the time. Communication between these privileged private individuals and the City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit clearly pushed SANRAL’s Western Cape Regional Manager, Van der Watt, into retaining the services of Chennells Albertyn Attorneys with the instruction to use any means possible to remove those whom they deemed undesirable from their midst.

To be fair to SANRAL, we have reason to believe that Van der Watt did not correctly consult the corporation’s legal advisors regarding this matter. When we couldn’t initially trace the court file from which the order was granted, we contacted a SANRAL legal advisor who identified himself only as “Johannes”.

Besides wondering how we had got his name and telephone extension, he readily provided the court case number as 11/4/14. When we pointed out to him that the High Court case numbering system is not formatted the way he was providing it, he suggested we try 1/114/14, which was still an incorrect formatting. We must question, if SANRAL’s own legal advisor had no clue as to what the correct case number was, who exactly was it who advised Van der Watt to retain the private firm of attorneys?

We can assume that Van der Watt, rather than acting fairly as a representative of SANRAL, was doing everything in his own power to ease the fears of the private citizens who were clearly threatened by the presence of the poor families in what they consider to be their private space. The next questions we must ask are; how much has the corporation incurred thus far in legal fees? How were the services of attorneys procured? Could there have been a contravention of the Public Procurement Act, or does Van der Watt have access to a blank cheque for assuaging the possibly imagined fears of privileged private individuals?

The answers to these questions may or may not ever be revealed. However, the second part of our report will show how several laws were contravened and manipulated culminating in the heartless destruction of simple shelters built by these desperately poor families, and their inhumane evictions into the treacherously cold winter conditions that prevailed at the time.  As the French proverb so wisely says “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”; roughly translated, it means ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same.’

Not in Our Neighbourhood (Part II) 


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