Mitchells Plain residents refuse to accept Langa rail occupiers as neighbours

“Try to understand our plight and our current living conditions” says Langa rail occupier

By Sandiso Phaliso

9 November 2023

About 100 Mitchells Plain residents picketed at the corner of Jakes Gerwel and Highlands Drive on Wednesday to oppose plans to relocate shack dwellers occupying the railway line in Langa to land next to Mitchells Plain. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso

About 100 Mitchells Plain residents picketed at the corners of Jakes Gerwel and Highlands Drive on Wednesday afternoon to oppose plans to relocate Langa shack dwellers occupying the railway line to land adjacent to their suburb.

More than 1,000 families currently live in shacks along the railway line between Langa train station and the Jakes Gerwel bridge.

The families moved onto the rail reserve and erected shacks on the railway line during the Covid lockdown in 2020 after PRASA cancelled security contracts protecting the Central Line. Many of them occupied the rail line because they could no longer afford to pay rent as backyarders.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts has instructed PRASA to relocate the occupiers so that the Central Line which runs to Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain could be repaired and returned to full operation. The two portioins of land identified for their permanent relocation is known as the Philippi Wedge which is adjacent to the Mitchells Plain suburbs of Woodlands and Weltevreden Valley.

There have been several delays in permanently relocating the families, the most recent being a rezoning application lodged with the City of Cape Town in August. A fast-tracked rezoning process is expected to be finalised by March next year.

However, residents of Mitchells Plain led by members of the National Coloured Congress say they were not consulted and strongly object to the Langa occupiers being relocated to the area.

Ross Maynier, who lives close to the proposed relocation sites, complained that neighbouring farmers and residents in the PHA were not consulted for the approval of the land use application.

“Mitchells Plain is no dumping ground,” he said.

“We are not going to accept the relocation of people from Langa living on the railway tracks. PRASA must go and look somewhere else for land to accommodate the Langa people. If they move the Langa people here, shit will hit the fence. We are not going to accept those people into our area,” said Maynier.

Another resident, Philip Jacobs, said informal settlements in the area, such as Siqalo, Oasis and Egoli, have been struggling without basic services for years. “Why doesn’t the government first provide basic services to those communities before bringing more people to suffer?

“There will be no relocation to Mitchells Plain, we will see to it,” said Jacobs.

Leaders of the group occupying the Langa railway tracks say they were shown the parcels of land on a map last year and had gone to see the land themselves.

Community leader Asithandile Bango said: “We are satisfied with relocating to that site in Mitchells Plain but we are surprised that the community is against this move. It is a scary situation because there might be some conflict when we finally move there. But we will not back down because we believe law enforcement will protect us.”

Bango pleaded with the protesting residents to “try to understand our plight and our current living conditions”.

“We deserve better housing and services like every other South African. When the time comes for us to move, we will do so without fear, even though we do understand the situation may be hostile,” he said.

PRASA spokesperson Andiswa Makanda said the relocation was subject to the City of Cape Town’s statutory processes being finalised.

Eddie Andrews, the City of Cape Town’s deputy mayor and mayco member for spatial planning and environment, told GroundUp both portions of land are located along Weltevreden Street, Schaapkraal in Philippi, and the City was playing a limited role in the proposed relocation.

Andrews said the City “has received two separate land use applications and the applications are currently in the advertising process”. He said on-site notices, notices to surrounding property owners and adverts in the press had been published, and registered civic associations, ward councillors and subcouncils had been alerted.

Andrews said the Housing Development Agency was responsible for the development of these sites. He said the City was not aware of the protest by Mitchells Plain residents.

“This is not a City of Cape Town application/development, but the applications submitted are being processed by the City in accordance with the Municipal Planning By-Law,” he said.