Courtrules outland grab

Howard Soetwater, founder of the United Homeless People's Association.

The City of Cape Town reiterated that a court order saying that vacant land in Retreat should be used for housing does not necessarily mean that members of the United Homeless People’s Association (UHPA) are guaranteed housing.

The City applied for the court order against the organisation after members of UHPA illegally occupied open land behind Crestway High School in Retreat.

The interdict was granted by the Western Cape High Court earlier this month to prevent the UHPA from again illegally occupying open land in the area.

This was after members violently clashed with law officials in March by stoning vehicles and burning tyres, when about 50 structures were taken down by the Land Invasion Unit (“Violence at land clash”, Southern Mail, Wednesday March 16).

For the past two years, the UHPA has been engaging with the City of Cape Town and have gone as far as setting up a memorandum of demands for housing to be made available to backyard dwellers and residents of informal settlements.

The sub-council then agreed to partner with the organisation and investigated whether the three properties that were identified by the organisation could be rezoned for housing purposes.

The properties identified include the open land behind Crestway High School that was invaded earlier this year as well as open land in Allenby Drive, Retreat, and in Peter Charles Street, Cafda.

Benedicta van Minnen, the mayoral committee member for human settlements, said the organisation was informed that only once all of the City’s processes, such as rezoning, had been completed and all the relevant approvals had been obtained, could the City’s human settlements directorate start the process of planning a housing development in respect of the relevant properties.

“It was emphasised to the UHPA that if the human settlements directorate obtained necessary approvals to commence with a housing development, it would not mean that members of the UHPA would be given preference,” she said.

Ms Van Minnen said the City was informed of allegations that Howard Soetwater, founder of UHPA, had been charging members of the surrounding community an “administration fee”of R50 and that he had been promising these residents that they would be allocated homes on the property (“Housing hoax or hero”, Southern Mail, April 2015).

She warned residents that this was not true.

“The City took steps to inform the affected community that the aforementioned practice was unlawful and that the allocation of any housing opportunities in the area would have to take place in accordance with the City’s existing housing allocation procedures,” she said.

Although the interdict was granted to the City, Mr Soetwater said the court outcome was a victory for them.

“I think it is a victory for the community and to us as an organisation because in the ruling the City was ordered to build houses on the land that has been standing vacant for many years. That is a step in the right direction because for years we have been struggling to get the City’s attention to start the planning process but it is taking the City too long,” said Mr Soetwater.

Mr Soetwater has denied claims that he is promising houses on the basis of fees paid to the organisation.

“The fee we ask members to give as a donation is used as a contribution for administration fees. We are also not guaranteeing houses to our members. After the land is rezoned we are planning to approach the City with a list of beneficiaries (members of UHPA) to apply for a people’s housing project,” he said.

An Enhanced People’s Housing Process (EPHP) is a process where beneficiaries are actively involved in the decision making over the housing process and make a contribution towards the building of their own homes. An EPHP was implemented at the Rondevlei housing development in Lavender Hill.