Court battle looms over Observatory pavement occupation
The City wants to move the occupiers to Delft South but they say that’s too far away
- The City of Cape Town has applied for an eviction order to remove about 30 families living along the main road in Observatory.
- In addition to the eviction order, the City also wants the court to prohibit the families from returning to the property “for the purposes of occupying it”.
- Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), on behalf of the families, is challenging the City’s decision to rely on the Emergency Housing Programme in its eviction application.
- NU’s lawyer has criticised the City’s decision which “exacerbates existing inequalities” by sending the community off to a “far-flung dumping ground” in Delft South.
More than 30 families living in tents and shacks along the main road in Observatory, Cape Town, are determined to challenge a bid to evict them in court.
The City of Cape Town filed an application at the Western Cape High Court in August 2023 to evict the families and move them to an emergency housing site in Delft South.
The group of mostly backyarders have named the area “Singabalapha” — ‘We belong here’ — informal settlement.
They originally occupied the Arcadia House old age home, owned by the Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged (CPOA), in 2019. They were evicted and the building was demolished. The group then settled on the lawn outside the property and obtained an interdict preventing the City from evicting them in October 2020.
At the time, Acting Judge Selwyn Hockey accused the City of using its bylaws as a “quick fix” to evict the occupiers. The City then approached the High Court in 2022, and successfully appealed the interdict.
On 22 August 2023, the City filed a notice of motion at the High Court to evict the Singabalapha residents.
In the City’s founding affidavit, Moegamat Adams, municipal manager of road and infrastructure management, said the eviction application was sought in terms of the PIE Act (Prevention of Illegal Eviction from an Unlawful Occupation of Land Act).
According to his affidavit, the families’ continued unlawful occupation is “a risk to their health, well-being and safety” and it “unjustifiably infringes on the rights of surrounding communities”; and results in “a high risk of damage to City-owned and private infrastructure”.
The City also states in court papers that the occupation has no running water, sanitation or other services, and it is not suitable for human habitation.
The City has offered emergency housing to the families at its site in Delft South. In his affidavit, Adams said the City would provide the families with an emergency housing kit to erect structures on private land, should they wish to do so.
In his affidavit, Adams said the emergency housing site in Delft South can accommodate about 80 units.
The City will offer shared facilities for the families at the site:
- 25 households will share one water point.
- Five structures will have access to sanitation and ablution facilities and,
- Each structure can apply for electricity supply.
The City formally applied for an eviction order on 8 November 2023. The City is also asking the court to further interdict the families from returning to the property “for the purposes of occupying it”.
On Tuesday, housing advocacy group Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), on behalf of Singabalapha residents, filed an application in the Western Cape High Court to review the City’s decision to rely on the Emergency Housing Programme (EHP) in its eviction application.
“The review application challenges the City’s failure to consider the Upgrading Informal Settlement Programme (UISP) as a viable alternative,” NU said in a statement.
The organisation said the UISP offers a legal framework which safeguards residents of informal settlements and prioritises those at risk of eviction. “It aims to protect their rights and dignity, preventing eviction without ensuring adequate alternative housing, addressing long-term tenure security, and improving access to suitable housing,” the statement read.
Singabalapha “appreciates that the current location is not ideal for upgrading”, NU said.
NU has identified 17 vacant public properties in several communities closer to where the group currently lives. These include land in Observatory, Maitland, Pinelands, Rondebosch, Lansdowne, City Bowl and the Atlantic Seaboard where the families could be given longer-term housing options “in terms of site and service delivery”.
NU lawyer Jonty Cogger said, “The City has an opportunity to set up the pathway to a dignified life for the Singabalapha community and contribute to our shared vision of a more equitable society.”
He said, “The City has opted for an approach that exacerbates existing inequalities by sending the community off to a far-flung dumping ground. It is irrational and unreasonable for the City to continue to ignore viable and more humane alternatives to address housing needs,” Cogger said.
Municipal spokesman, Luthando Tyhalibongo, confirmed that the City was served with NU’s review application on Wednesday. He said they are considering the contents of the application and will “respond in more detail in due course”.
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