Battle in Khayelitsha over occupied land

The Khayelitsha Community Trust plans to build a private hospital displacing informal settlement formed during Covid

By Vincent Lali

2 February 2024

New Bright informal settlement near Khayelitsha Mall was established during the Covid pandemic when many backyarders lost their jobs and ability to pay rent. There are about 300 households. They have no services as the land has been earmarked for development. Photos: Vincent Lali

Community leader Pule Mazamelela, of New Bright informal settlement near Khayelitsha Mall, says he and other shack dwellers want the City of Cape Town to provide them with the standpipes and toilets they were promised.

In August 2022, the City reported it had conducted a site visit with the ward councillor and community leaders of 240 (now about 300) households in New Bright informal settlement. It said the site was accessible for vehicles and it intended supplying about 25 container toilets at a cost of R212,500 by December 2022. The City said there were existing water reticulation lines close-by and it could install five standpipes.

But shortly thereafter the City handed the land over to the Khayelitsha Community Trust (KCT).

At a public meeting on 9 December 2023, the City told the community that a hospital was to be built on the land and the residents must relocate.

“A follow up meeting will be held and alternate land is being sought,” the City told GroundUp.

KCT’s head of corporate service, Lungelwa Sigasana, confirmed the land will be used for a hospital, “as per the agreements with the City”.

“As soon as the outstanding matters with the illegal occupants are resolved we will commence with the targeted plans of the development,” said Sigasana.

She said KCT was founded by the City of Cape Town in 2003 to develop commercial, residential, and community facilities in Khayelitsha. The Trust, previously a municipal entity, now trades as a non-profit organisation.

“A land availability agreement entered into between the City and KCT, allows KCT to assist with the Khayelitsha business district development and hold equity in associated developments, the returns of which are used in other developments,” she said.

Meanwhile, the land occupiers at New Bright feel overlooked. They are mostly former backyarders from nearby townships who have been living on the land since 2020.

While they struggle to access water and sanitation, they have seen other settlements around them get services.

Community leader Pule Mazamelela said: “Covid regulations forced companies to shut down, so we lost our jobs. Because we could not pay rent, we occupied the land.”

“The land had stood vacant for about 30 years before we occupied it,” said Mazamelela.

“The City was not supposed to hand over land that had already been occupied. If it did so, then senior officials must come here and tell us where we must stay,” he said.

He says he signed documents with the City to install the standpipes and toilets. He said they were told residents would be hired to do the work and officials assured him the toilets would be supplied no later than June 2023.

“We are still waiting for the jobs.”

Mazamelela says people defecated in plastic bags at night and elders have to dig holes to bury their childrens’ faeces. During the day they ask for access to the communal toilets at nearby Graceland Level 2 informal settlement.

Community leader Mantai Matibi says they should at least have been given portable toilets and water tanks that can easily be moved if they have to be relocated. But Matibi says the time for portable toilets and water tanks has long past; they want flush toilets and standpipes which were approved by the City.

She says people have resorted to getting water from a fire hydrant nearby, but where not sure if it is safe to drink. Firefighters had warned them drinking the water, but they have little alternative.

Mayco member for water and sanitation Zahid Badroodien says: “The project was cancelled as the Water and Sanitation Directorate was made aware that the site will be used for the construction of a hospital. Officials are therefore unable to proceed with any projects at the moment.”

Asked about the safety of water from a fire hydrant, Badroodien says using and collecting water at fire hydrants was not allowed. “It is not for public consumption and is intended for emergencies, specifically in the event of fire only.”

Badroodien says water tanks provide potable water to New Bright.

Community leaders insist there is no water tank and this reporter on repeated visits has never seen a water tank or tanker at the site.

Aseza Gwama collecting water from a fire hydrant near her home in New Bright informal settlement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.