Conflict over land for rail line occupiers

Traditional leaders say the land is used for Xhosa initiation rituals

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Vacant land next to the Stock Road train station in Philippi has been identified as a site for the temporary relocation of people occupying the railway line beyond Nyanga. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso.

  • PRASA has identified land next to the Stock Road station in Philippi to relocate 900 families occupying the Central Line between Nyanga and Philippi.
  • But the land is used for traditional Xhosa initiation rituals, and traditional leaders say they will resist temporary accommodation plans.
  • On 29 August PRASA said it would clear the land and assess it for accommodation within two to three weeks, but there is no sign yet of any activity.
  • Fikile Mbalula had promised, while Minister of Transport, that the Central Line would be running by December 2022.

PRASA has identified open land next to the Stock Road train station in Philippi East to temporarily relocate about 900 households. These households are currently occupying part of the railway line between Nyanga and Khayelitsha.

Trains stopped running on the Metrorail Central Line from Cape Town to Khayelitsha in late 2019 due to theft and vandalism of equipment. This followed PRASA’s cancellation of security contracts. Then shacks were built on the unused line and railway reserve during the Covid lockdown in 2020.

The identification of the land next to the Stock Road station for temporary relocation of people occupying the line between Nyanga and Philippi, emerged during a Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) meeting in Parliament on 29 August.

But traditional leaders in Philippi say the land is used for traditional circumcision rituals during June and December.

Sikelela Zokufa, chairperson of the Somagwaza Institute — a non-profit organisation for the preservation of traditional Xhosa culture — said the organisation would not allow housing to be built on the site.

Zokufa said the Somagwaza Institute had not been consulted about the plan, and only came to know about it when it was announced during an imbizo hosted by Minister of Transport Sindiswe Chikunga on 11 September.

“I was shocked to hear of the plans to relocate families there,” he said, adding that he immediately contacted and alerted his executive committee members.

“Losing the land will be a blow to us because we accommodate hundreds of boys from Nyanga, Philippi and Gugulethu each initiation season. We won’t have a place to perform these rituals to manhood and the government knows this is the only land around here that we have,” said Zokufa.

“I promise you the Stock Road site is not going to be used for relocation of railway line shacks. We are being undermined, disrespected, oppressed, and our culture not taken seriously. We are not going to fold our arms and do nothing. We will fight tooth and nail,” he said.

The record of the SCOPA meeting of 29 August, attended by the ministers of transport, human settlements, public works and Infrastructure, Cape Town’s mayor, and PRASA’s CEO, indicates work for the relocation of families is overdue.

SCOPA chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the national departments and the Cape Town municipality had been instructed to work together to relocate the households living on the railway line and the rail reserve, in an initiative named Operation Bhekela.

The assessment of the relocation of the households, clearing of bush on the Stock Road station site, and whether legal complexities over land ownership had been resolved, were to be completed by 20 September, when the parties were to attend a follow-up meeting with SCOPA.

But SCOPA did not meet on 20 September to discuss the ongoing railway occupation. SCOPA secretary Ntombi Nkabinde said the planned meeting of 20 September fell on Parliament “having a question session”. A tentative date for the next SCOPA session on the railway line is set for 11 October.

PRASA CEO Hishaam Emeran told SCOPA on 29 August that the clearing of vegetation on the Stock Road station site would “start this week”. According to the record of the meeting, Emeran said PRASA’s goal was to start “engineering work by next week” as part of preparing the site for relocation.

However, on Thursday last week, four weeks after Emeran’s statement, GroundUp found no evidence of vegetation clearing or any other activity at the site.

Former transport minister Fikile Mbalula last year stated the Central Line would be running by December 2022.

TOPICS:  Prasa / Metrorail

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