Thousands of people still living on Cape Town’s Central Line

This is in addition to the hundreds of families in shacks who were relocated from the railway line in Philippi in December

By Sandiso Phaliso

14 March 2024

Mbulelo Ncedana from the housing development agency speaking to officials on an intergovernmental task team and shack dwellers at a meeting on the progress to relocate households living on Metrorail’s tracks and reserves. Photos: Sandiso Phaliso

Thousands of shack dwellers are still living on Metrorail’s rail reserves in Langa and on the line between Philippi and Khayelitsha in Cape Town.

This was revealed by deputy director-general in the national transport department, Ngwako Makaepea, during a meeting on 12 March with the officials on an intergovernmental task team. The team includes Cape Town deputy mayor Eddie Andrews, national transport deputy director-general Ngwako Makaepea, Metrorail’s Western Cape regional manager Raymond Maseko and Ndumiso Mkhwanazi from the Housing Development Agency.

Makaepea said that more than 1,250 shack dwellers are still living on rail reserves in Langa.

He said this relocation would be part of phase two of what is known as Operation Bhekela. Phase one happened in December with the relocation of over 800 families to the land next to the Stock Road train station in Philippi East.

Makaepea said that the Langa occupiers are to be relocated to a site known as the Philippi Wedge which is adjacent to Mitchells Plain near the Siqalo informal settlement on Jakes Gerwel drive.

The land identified for the permanent relocation of the Langa households still has an outstanding rezoning application, which was lodged with the City of Cape Town in August 2023.

Ndumiso Mkhwanazi from the Housing Development Agency estimated that the permanent relocation of the Langa families would only be finalised during the 2024/25 financial year.

Mkhwanazi said there are still 3,941 households on the railway line between Philippi and Khayelitsha. He did not provide any timeframes for when they would be relocated.

Makaepea said they were still looking for suitable land to accommodate the thousands of households that need to be relocated. “Once we get the land then we’ll go to the statutory processes,” he said.

He added that the permanent relocation of the Langa families was dependent on the outcome of the City’s approval of the rezoning application.

Stock Road shack dwellers

Some of the shack dwellers who were relocated in December by PRASA to land next to the train station in Philippi East were also at the meeting on Tuesday. They were demanding that services to the settlement improve immediately.

Nyameka Mabandla the wife of activists Loyiso Nkohla who was shot while he was at a meeting with the railway occupiers. Mabandla was speaking on behalf of some of the shack dwellers living at the Stock Road site.

Last month, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) was briefed on efforts to relocate thousands of families who began occupying parts of the Metrorail Central Line in Cape Town during the Covid lockdown. These efforts have been marked by several delays and disputes.

Earlier in February, relocated families protested about a lack of basic services provided by the City, including the provision of water, electricity, and sanitation.

The department’s Makaepea told the shack dwellers. “We might not be perfect in dealing with the community’s concerns but we are trying. We, as government, are not doing enough,” he said.

The officials confirmed that the electrical cabling between Philippi train station and Khayelitsha have all been stolen and vandalised. The branch line to Mitchells Plain has also been stripped of electrical cabling. Stations beyond Nyanga, including Philippi have also been vandalised.

Mkhwanazi said work on these lines has started and will be done in phases.

In response to this one of the relocated Stock Road residents warned that if their issues are not resolved immediately, they will prevent contractors from restoring the remainder of the Central Line in Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha.