‘Land grabbing will not be tolerated’

LILLIAN AMOS

While some backyard dwell-ers are confident that they will receive housing if they illegally invade land in Retreat, the City of Cape Town has made it clear that land grabbing will not be tolerated.

This comes after attempts by the United Homeless People’s Association to illegally invade open land in 10th Avenue behind Crestway High School (“Violence at land clash”, March 16, Southern Mail).

In 2014, the United Homeless People’s Association proposed a plan where they identified three open pieces of land that could be used for housing.

The properties identified in-cluded the open land behind Crestway High School that was invaded last week, in Allenby Drive, Retreat, and in Peter Charles Street, Cafda.

The organisation was heavily involved in the development of the Rondevlei housing project, previously known as the Cuba Heights informal settlement, behind Lavender Hill High School. Backyard dwellers, helped by the organisation, illegally occupied the land under the leadership of Howard Soetwater.

Over the past few years the City had built more than 60 houses and several families have moved into their new homes.

Mr Soetwater has promised backyard dwellers and informal settlement residents that they too would be beneficiaries if houses were built at the three properties earmarked by the organisation. A memorandum of demands was written up and handed over to Sub-council 18.

The sub-council agreed to partner with the organisation to work on the memorandum and see if the three properties could be rezoned for housing purposes.

Ward 68 councillor Marita Pet-ersen tabled a motion to the sub-council to inspect whether the land could be rezoned for housing.

The United Homeless People’s Association has over 400 members who are required to make a “donation” to the organisation (“Housing hoax or housing hero”, Southern Mail, April 16 2015).

Since the start of the organisation’s plans to grab land, the City has warned people not to give Mr Soetwater money.

Benedicta van Minnen, Mayco member for human settlements in the City of Cape Town, said the City has the highest rate of urbanisation in the country and is well aware that the housing needs of residents are acute but will not allow people who are not on the housing list to benefit.

“We have to ensure that housing opportunities are provided without fear or favour and always within the framework of the law and with regard for due process. That is a responsibility that we carry as a government. We have a housing delivery system in place to ensure that those who qualify and have been registered for a housing opportunity for the longest period of time are considered first for an opportunity. This is only fair. We cannot allow queue-jumping,”said Ms Van Minnen.

She added that the City would not tolerate the hijacking of housing opportunities through land invasions. “Every single piece of land that is invaded becomes a fire risk; basic service delivery suffers; and the City’s resources are stretched to the limit in an effort to provide basic services to another settlement. The proliferation of informal settlements therefore cannot be tolerated,”she said.

“The City has received tip-offs about Mr Soetwater’s involvement in this matter. Last year, we rec-eived complaints that this individual in the Retreat and Steenberg areas has allegedly been exploiting vulnerable people in the community by promising them houses in exchange for a fee of approximate-ly R50, which he claimed will secure their space,” said Ms Van Minnen.

She said the City was also informed that various people who had heard about the scam, and who were in desperate need of housing, had been enquiring about the bogus City of Cape Town developments on the Crestway open space and Allenby Drive open space, Retreat – wanting to know how to pay their money, how they can qualify, when can they move in, and so on. “The community must remember that beneficiaries of social housing projects are not required to make any payments to secure their housing opportunity, as all costs are carried by government,” said Ms Van Minnen. “There are currently no City-planned housing developments earmarked for the above-mentioned spaces,” she said.

Mr Soetwater has, however, denied that the organisation is running a scam. “This is not true. I am asking members for a R50 dona- tion to pay for administration costs. We have printing, transport and other admin costs,” said Mr Soet- water.

“I am a worker for the people and I am trying to have their voices heard because I know how it feels to be a backyard dweller and to live in an informal settlement.”

Sub-council 18 chairman Monty Oliver last week addressed the issue at the sub-council meeting held on Thursday March 17. “The invasion of the Crestway precinct is such a stark reminder that more often than not the means do not justify the end. We will not tolerate the barbaric actions by a small minority of hooligans even if it is supposedly done in the noble search of housing opportunities for home seekers.”

He added: “The City is working very hard to bring housing opportunities to as many people as possible but with an ever growing list of applicants the task is well nigh im-possible. We must resolve to leave a legacy of caring for the underprivileged, while at the same time making progress towards law and free choice possible together.”

Ms Petersen, however, said while the organisation had many valid points and their attempts to create housing opportunities were commendable, Mr Soetwater’s alleged attempts to exploit people for money, had to be dealt with.

“I agree with the organisation as there are many good people whose intentions are good. Mr Soetwater needs to be dealt with separately. People who are not on the housing waiting list will, however, not be considered as those who have been patiently waiting for houses for years will be on the City’s priority list,” said Ms Petersen.

Ms Petersen has requested that residents who have been giving money to Mr Soetwater to allegedly secure housing, should report it. Report land invasions by calling 107 from a land line and 0800 225 669 from a cellphone.