City vs shack dwellers: Occupations and demolitions escalate in Cape Town

Despite last week’s court order, new shacks are being erected next to Empolweni and the City is tearing them down.

Alex Midikana sits amongst his belongings as shacks are removed. When Law Enforcement arrived yesterday, Midikana’s home was spared. Today it too was removed. Photo: Brenton Geach

Alex Midikana sits amongst his belongings as shacks are removed. When Law Enforcement arrived on Tuesday Midikana’s home was spared. But on Thursday it too was removed. Photo: Brenton Geach

By Ashraf Hendricks

22 April 2020

Shacks were torn down by the City of Cape Town on Wednesday in a new land occupation next to the Empolweni informal settlement in Khayelitsha.

On 17 April the Cape High Court effectively ruled that the City may not tear down shacks erected after lockdown in Empolweni, at least not until a court hearing takes place after the Covid-19 lockdown. But the order was contingent on no more people moving to the site.

“These are new attempts at invading this piece of land. It is illegal to invade land and the court supports the City in its right to protect its land,” said Councillor Malusi Booi, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements.

Throughout the new settlement, mattresses, chairs, stoves and other belongings could be seen strewn across the sparse field. Workers in green vests and masks tore down the shacks with crowbars. They were accompanied by City Law Enforcement and SAPS. The shack building materials were then thrown onto a truck and removed. This new settlement has yet to be given a name. Photo: Brenton Geach

Sisanda Nyanga stands around her belongings after her home was demolished and removed. A statement released on 20 April from the City said that their has been a rapid increase in “attempted illegal occupations” since the Covid-19 pandemic. “The land is earmarked for the expansion of basic services infrastructure. If it is lost, the City will not be able to cater to the increased basic services demand.” Photo: Brenton Geach

A resident shows his wound, possibly from a rubber bullet. Aphilile Mzayiya (not pictured) said that this was his second day living here. On Monday night he slept outside. “I’ve got two kids at home. But now I dont know. I wish President Ramaphosa can see how they treat us,” he said. Before moving here, Mzayiya was living in his mothers backyard, but it was crowded. Now 26, he felt that he was too old to be staying with his parents and moved out to start a life with his two children. He removed his shack from his mother’s backyard but all those materials were taken from him after his home was demolished. Mzayiya said he is unsure where he’ll spend the night, but if needs be he will make a fire and spend the evening on the open land. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Anton Du Plessis said that he moved to the site three days ago. Du Plessis said that Law Enforcement came on Tuesday and only demolished some of the shacks. On Wednesday they came to demolish the rest. He said that when the officers are gone, he will have to get new material and rebuild. Before moving here, Du Plessis was living in a backyard in Khayelitsha and paying rent, but was unable to pay it anymore. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

The new settlement is located right next to Empolweni. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

After the the shacks were removed, protesters lit fires, blocking two nearby streets. Rocks were thrown at officers from the cover of shacks in the nearby informal settlement. Officers fired rubber bullets sporadically and used teargas in an attempt to quell protests. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Goats were unfazed and continued to graze as police officers cleared the street of burning debris and rubble. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks.