Lwandle commission recommends reforms to prevent illegal evictions

| Daneel Knoetze
Lwandle after homes were demolished earlier this year. Photo by Barbara Maragele.

The Commission of Inquiry into the Lwandle evictions has recommended changes to legislation to prevent illegal evictions in future.

The Commission handed its report to Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on Wednesday. It will be some time before the report is made public but, at the handover, commission chairman Denzil Potgieter summarised recommendations that are wide-ranging and geared towards protecting South Africans from illegal evictions.

The Commission has provided Sisulu with an explanation for the evictions of hundreds of families in Lwandle, Strand. But the report’s recommendations appear to be general and far reaching - setting out a blueprint for making legislation, the court system and authorities more sensitive to protecting the Constitutional rights of people being evicted.

The Enquiry was established in the direct aftermath of violent mass evictions on a parcel of land owned by the SA National Roads Agency on 2 and 3 June. The evictions left hundreds of families homeless on the eve of a winter storm.

Presenting the report to Sisulu at Parliament on Wednesday, Potgieter indicated that the evictions were symptomatic of general shortcomings in the application of laws protecting people from summary eviction. He recommended amendments to legislation, training, and education about this legislation for police officers and other authorities involved in evictions, and clarity on the responsibilities and rights of both landowners and illegal occupiers.

“The commission has found legislative shortcomings in the PIE (Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land) Act,” he said.

“We have asked the Minister to consider an amendment to the Act… There is a need for probation officers to report to the court, during pending evictions proceedings, about whether there is suitable alternative accommodation and how an eviction will affect the Constitutional rights of the person or people facing eviction.”

Section 26 of the Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right of “access to adequate housing” and states that no one may be evicted from his or her home “without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances”.

Potgieter further warned against a developing trend where court interdicts against further illegal occupation are used as “de facto” eviction orders.

“Organs of state should be discouraged from circumventing the provisions of the PIE Act (in this way),” he said.

He also recommended that the duty of landowners to secure their property, to prevent land occupations from taking place, should be taken more seriously.

Commenting on the commission’s processes, Potgieter said the refusal of the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Provincial Government (WCPG) to participate in the public hearings phase had hampered the commission’s work. Those spheres of government had however made written submissions to the commission.

Potgieter did not respond to questions about whether the report contained references to compensation for people who suffered damages during evictions, or penalties for unlawful actions.

Sisulu welcomed the report and said she would “apply her mind” to the findings and recommendations before bringing it up for discussion and comment at a Human Settlements portfolio committee meeting in Parliament - possibly as early as next week.

“This commission was established to ensure that we do not see a repeat of the brutal type of evictions seen in Lwandle in June,” she said of her intentions when constituting the commission on June 4. She expressed disappointment with the City and WCPG for not attending the public hearings, saying that it was the first that she had heard of their absence.

Within hours of the handover, Mayor Patricia de Lille responded:

“The City of Cape Town is glad that this waste of taxpayers’ money is over… We are not surprised by the comments made. This has always been a political hit squad which has enriched those involved up to R4 million, aimed at undermining DA-led governments. The fact that no similar level of attention has been placed on the hundreds of evictions throughout the country proves this. The inquiry has no legal standing and its recommendations have no legal force.”

De Lille said that Sisulu had been sent written correspondence regarding the City’s submission and absence from the public hearings. Sisulu had not responded.

Speaking to GroundUp after the official handover, commission member Annelize van Wyk said that the work, which included interviews with more than 100 people who had lost their homes during the evictions, had been an “emotional” experience.

“But, that was very important for the commission’s legitimacy within the community,” she said.

She said the report also recommended that the police adopt a special standing order for dealing with evictions.

Currently, the police apply the National Instruction for Public Order Policing when enforcing mass evictions.

During the public hearings Van Wyk, who is the former ANC Chairperson for the Portfolio Committee on Police, hammered the police for their part in escalating the violence of the evictions.

“The police need to make a shift in how they interact with communities during these situations,” she said.

“People need to feel that they can trust the police to protect their rights and their property.”

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TOPICS:  Government Housing Human Rights

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