’We are taking back the land that belongs to us’

Greg Fick, from the First Indigenous Nation of Southern Africa, speaks to Rondevlei land invaders and Nathan Adriaanse, in the white shirt, from the provincial Department of Human Settlements.

Land invaders on state land next to Rondevlei Nature Reserve are digging in their heels, while the provincial government says those who continue to build on the site are defying a court order and can be evicted.

About 200 men, women and children started moving onto the provincial government land on Friday January 15.

On Wednesday February 10, two non-profit organisations, the First Indigenous Nation of Southern Africa (FINSA) and the Voice of Parkwood, met on the field during a tense stand-off that saw the land grabbers used tyres and stones to barricade a road leading to their shelters.

The organisations say they support the land invaders and want to mediate between them and law-enforcement officers, who, along with Red Ant Security personnel, have periodically removed some of the shacks made of wood and corrugated steel sheets. During these sorties, the occupiers have pelted law enforcement officers with stones, and the officers have fired rubber bullets at the occupiers.

Bradley van Sitters, who is part of the Finsa group, said children and women had been bruised and injured by the rubber bullets.

“People were assaulted and the materials used to build their structures were taken. It is time we stand up and take back the land that was taken from us and that is what must continue to happen,” he said.

Occupiers erect a barricade of tyres and stones to block a Red Ant armoured vehicle.

Howard Soetwater, chairman of the United Homeless People’s Association, which represents the invaders, said the community of Cuba Heights had unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Sub-council 18 officials last year to urge them to make more land available and speed up housing delivery, including the development behind Crestway High School in Retreat.

“Our people are marginalised, and we are demanding the housing developments be sped up,” he said.

Finsa chairman Greg Fick said the government was targeting people of Khoisan heritage, and he called on the South African Human Rights Commission for legal assistance.

“Why does the government evict people from areas such as Hout Bay and Rondevlei where the indigenous people are living and not along Baden Powell Drive where shacks are put up daily? They have the right to be on this land, and they have the right to services on the land – it doesn’t belong to the government; it belongs to the indigenous people. We are taking the land that belongs to us.

“We will take back the ancestral land that was taken from us. Nobody else lived here but the Khoi and San people. Why don’t they just give us the land? Instead the City puts people in rental stocks and charges them for it every month. Why don’t they give us ownership? They do not want to see us prosper.”

Paul Phillips, chairman of Voice of Parkwood, said they stood in solidarity with the land invaders because of the “human settlement issues” in the province.

“Parkwood people are also struggling to get houses,” he said. “We will help our brothers and sisters in whichever way we can.”

Tauriq Jenkins from the South African Human Rights Commission took statements from occupiers and assessed the situation.

A South African Human Rights Commission monitor Tauriq Jenkins was on the scene taking statements from the land invaders. He is also chairman of the Anti-Repression Working Group of the C-19 Coalition, a grouping of various trade unions, community organisations and NGOs.

He said there was no court order to evict the land invaders: “The documents that were shown by law enforcement are not legally appropriate documents. It’s very clear that most of the affected community were not given these documents or time to respond to them. There has been an overreach in brutality about how they’re dealing with this issue.”

However, Nathan Adriaanse, spokesman for the provincial Department of Human Settlements said the Western Cape High Court had granted the department an interdict on Thursday January 21 to stop more people moving onto land and those who had built new shelters were in breach of the interdict and would be evicted.

The sheriff of the court had used a loud hailer on the days that shacks had been pulled down to announce that and notices about the interdict had been posted at the site, he said.

“The department will continue to protect land in its ownership from active or further land invasions,” he said.

SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said they were against illegal land invasions but understood “the need and plight for housing in the province”.

The commission, he said, would “correspond with the government to speed up the delivery of housing”.

Sub-council 18 chairwoman said she would set up a meeting with the necessary officials to get feedback on planned housing developments.