Tensions rise in Masiphumelele after shack demolitions

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A fire last month in Masiphumelele left over 4,000 people without homes. The difficulties of rebuilding the informal settlement that burnt down are causing tensions between the community and the City of Cape Town.

Victims of the Masiphumelele fire that left thousands homeless marched with the sun shining on their faces to the office of ward councillor Felicity Purchase today.

The approximately 300 demonstrators handed a memorandum to Purchase, demanding land to build their shacks.

There was a large law enforcement contingent waiting for the protesters at the Fish Hoek municipal offices.

The march comes after about 100 families who lost their homes in the fire received building material from the City of Cape Town but had no place to rebuild their shacks. They then built on land that the City says belongs to South African National Parks.

On Tuesday morning when residents were at work, law enforcement demolished the shacks. Residents complain that the few belongings they had managed to save from the fire were destroyed. They are upset that the City has given them material but not provided them with land to rebuild their shacks.

One resident who asked not to be named says she has been sleeping from one house to another with her children. “I am moving around sleeping at friends’ places and sometimes in the bushes with my children, they have destroyed the things that I had left.”

“My kids have to get used to the fact that we have no home. One was destroyed by the fire and another by people who don’t care about our well being,” she said.

The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Councillor Benedicta Van Minnen, released a statement on 17 December warning that illegal building of structures by those who were not affected by fire would not be tolerated. The statement stated that the occupation of new land has been largely led by opportunistic backyarders who were not affected by the fire. Residents dispute this statement saying those that have built on the land received building material from the City.

Community leader Howard Mbana addressed the crowd outside Purchase’s office. “We understand that those structures were erected illegally but unfortunately the process that has been followed was not according to the by-laws of our country,” said Mbana. He said the City failed to produce a court order to evict people. “If there was a court order, we want to know when was that court order issued and to whom was that court order addressed.”

“As we speak here today people have no place to sleep. The disabled, children, the old and the sick are sleeping outside in the bushes with children,” Mbana said. He also said that fire victims sleeping in the Masiphumelele Community Hall had no privacy. “Where are they going to bath?” he asked.

Purchase accepted the memorandum and said it would be considered. “The hall has been made available for anyone that requires somewhere to stay. People have chosen not to stay there and that is their prerogative,” said purchase. She says that people were told from start that they should not build on the land where the removals took place, but they still chose to build there. This angered the residents. Some shouting, asking if Purchase would sleep at the hall with different families.

Residents marched back to Masiphumelele. They appeared to be dissatisfied.

TOPICS:  Government Housing Local government

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