Court orders City of Cape Town to leave Obs occupiers alone

Interim interdict can be challenged on 3 June

By Ashraf Hendricks

21 May 2020

Land occupiers in Observatory, Cape Town, sing struggle songs while law enforcement officers hand out fines to them for contravening by-laws on Wednesday morning. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Shack dwellers and homeless people who have erected a tent in Observatory, Cape Town, have obtained an urgent interim interdict that prevents the City from evicting them. The tent, home now to dozens of people, has been erected on the lawn in front of a vacated old age home, Arcadia House, owned by Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged (CPOA)

The group originally occupied the old age home, but were evicted and the building was demolished. Then they settled on the lawn. They have named their settlement Singabalapha.

At about midnight on Wednesday Judge Robert Henney granted the interdict. The order prevents the City from interfering with or confiscating the property of the occupiers, or harassing or abusing them.

This comes after the City’s Law Enforcement handed out 21 fines to residents early Wednesday morning for contravening by-laws.

Residents were fined R300 for building makeshift structures in a public place or interfering with the safe space and walkway of pedestrians. One resident was fined R1,000 for failing to confine to his home during lockdown. One man was seen detained at the back of a Law Enforcement vehicle.

A statement released by the Singabalapha residents refers to the “urgent interim interdict that prevents the City from harassing us and removing our property”. The statement said that the man who was arrested was “given an ultimatum that he would be charged and locked up if he did not sign the by-law fines notice”. He was later released and not charged after signing the notice.

The City and the Minister of Police (the second respondent in the case) can return to court on 3 June to show why the order should not be granted.

“It’s a relief for us and our children,” said Barbara Vusa, a Singabalapha community leader, and one of the named applicants in the case. She said that the residents are happy and no law enforcement was seen at the settlement this morning.