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Monday Jun 10, 2013

Legal experts hail court ruling on Isiqalo land dispute

An "unprecedented" court order has told three levels of the government they are all responsible for finding a solution to accommodate shack dwellers facing eviction - and that they must work together.

Six thousand residents have settled in the Isiqalo informal settlement along Vanguard Drive, Philippi.

In addition, the order by Judge Patrick Gamble, handed down in the Western Cape High Court last week, also requires national, provincial and local government to come clean about what land is actually available for new settlements.

Legal experts hailed the order as highlighting the complexities around the right to housing.

"This is the first case which we are aware of where a court has ordered local, provincial and national government to provide a detailed audit of land which could be made available to accommodate desperately poor people facing eviction from private land," said Sheldon Mogardie, of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) here.

The case dates back to last August when two landowners, Robert Ross Demolishers and Lyton Props Twelve, went to court to have 6 000 residents evicted from their land.

The settlement, known as Isiqalo, is situated in Philippi, next to Vanguard Drive.

The City of Cape Town was involved as second respondent.

The matter was postponed to May 29, and the order was made last week.

Judge Gamble was clear in his order that the court needed more information about land to which the Isiqalo residents could be moved, in order "to make a just and equitable decision".

Earlier, advocate Paul Kennedy of the LRC, for the Isiqalo residents, warned that the people would not just disappear if they were evicted. Even though they were occupying the land unlawfully, "they do so out of a result of desperation".

Advocate Lisa Kieck, for Robert Ross Demolishers, countered, however, that the court would be rewarding potential "queue jumpers" if it did not evict the residents, suggesting they only moved on to the land in a bid to secure government houses. During the hearings, which ended on Monday after three days, Judge Gamble said the people would be left homeless if evicted.

Advocate Shafia Mahomed, for Lyton Props Twelve, argued that even though her client's property had stood vacant for the past 16 years, it was not the responsibility of private landowners to provide housing to the public.

"This responsibility should be borne by the state," she said.

Meanwhile, the LRC also branded "inadequate" the city attempting to distance itself from the issue, arguing that eviction was a dispute between Ross, Lyton and the residents.

Advocate Anton Katz, representing the city, said they were willing to provide water and sanitation "to offer some measure of dignity right now".

After the court order was made, attorney Naseema Hassan, for Lyton Props Twelve, said it would force the government to be accountable.

Mogardie said they were pleased with the outcome, and that the order "makes it clear that our clients are entitled to stay in their homes at Isiqalo until the court has ruled on the matter".

Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela said they had no objection to revealing details of available land to "the relevant people", along with their plans for such land.

An audit had been conducted in 2008, and found that most of the available land was owned by state-owned enterprises and other government departments.

Of the Isiqalo residents, he said he was unaware of the specific settlement, but that they did have an idea of how many people were waiting for houses and how long they had waited.

Tandeka Gqada, mayoral committee member for the department of human settlements, said the city would comply with the court order.

"It will be a time-consuming process to supply the details required by the court," she said.

The parties must report back to the court on September 2.

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)


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