Showdown in court over Ceres evictions

Municipality wants to evict 27 people who have occupied the Bella Vista 309 Housing Project

By Aidan Jones

Photo of court
On Wednesday, Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Masuku postponed the hearing of an urgent eviction application by the Witzenberg Municipality until 30 July 2018. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Masuku on Wednesday postponed the hearing of an urgent eviction application by the Witzenberg Municipality until 30 July 2018.

In its founding affidavit, filed on 12 March, the municipality stated that 27 people had unlawfully occupied houses in the Bella Vista 309 Housing Project in Ceres on 23 February 2018.

The municipality applied to the High Court to order the 27 people to vacate the houses, along with all their belongings, and “that this matter be dealt with as one of urgency”.

Advocate Erasmus Smit, representing Witzenberg Municipality, argued that the matter was particularly urgent because “if the respondents are not evicted timeously from these properties it will affect the funding of not only this housing programme, but also the next one.”

“You know, these are people, they are going to be affected more than just the funding,” said Acting Judge Masuku. “We are not worried about funding; funding is with government. So it will stay in government’s coffers until this matter is resolved.”

“You are wanting to evict 25 [the number is 27] people out of their homes … to protect a funding decision, it can’t be urgent,” said Masuku.

There were several nods among the respondents as Masuku spoke.

“We expected that today we would have to leave because the municipality made an urgent application [against us],” said a community leader, one of the 27 respondents in the matter. He asked not to be named. “But today, he [Masuku] said it’s actually not that urgent, that because we have rights he said the [municipality’s] advocate must be comfortable that we can get a postponement until the 30th [of July].”

On 20 March the respondents approached Legal Aid for assistance. In a letter on the same day to the High Court and Witzenberg Municipality’s lawyers, Legal Aid responded that the earliest possible date they could provide for a consultation was 23 April 2018.

The letter stated that Legal Aid had informed the respondents to request a postponement so this could take place.

Twenty-four of the respondents travelled to the High Court on Wednesday to request that the court hearing be postponed to 7 May 2018, to give them time to consult with Legal Aid.

The municipality’s lawyers initially took issue with the length of the postponement requested by the respondents, but after learning the reasons for the request, agreed to the date.

However, Masuku questioned the reasonableness of the date, saying it would not give the respondents enough time to prepare their affidavits.

In its affidavit, the municipality stated that the houses were “wholly unfit” for habitation at the time they were occupied. Water and electricity had not yet been connected.

Smit referred to photos of the premises taken by the municipality and filed in its affidavit that showed rooms and ablution facilities had been damaged in the houses.

“The images are telling me that in certain respects some of the houses are unfinished and maybe a contractor needs to come and finish them,” said Masuku. “They are not telling me that there is vandalisation of the property. How can people vandalise the places where they live?”

Smit then said the court “should also take into account the lives of the people who were allocated these properties, who also are affected”.

Masuku said: “The people who you say are allocated the houses are not here. What we can talk about is your client, the municipality, and these people that are in court who are asking the court to give them time to file. Firstly, to obtain legal assistance and also to file affidavits.”

“All I need to do is to ring fence the rights they have to consult a lawyer,” said Masuku.

Bella Vista 309 housing project

The Bella Vista 309 housing project is a Witzenberg Municipality housing development. Municipal manager David Nasson said that houses were allocated to people who had been on the municipal housing waiting list prior to 2009.

Referring to the 27 respondents, Nasson said, “Only seven of the illegal occupants are on the waiting list, of which two applied prior to 2009; one would have potentially qualified in terms of the criteria while the other one is younger than 40 years. The other five applied between 2011 and 2016.”

Asked for comment on the High Court’s decision, Nasson said: “We have no comment on the postponement”.

Addressing the respondents at the end of proceedings, Acting Judge Masuku said, “By the 30th of July you must have your affidavits filed, you must be ready to have the matter argued in court.”


Published originally on GroundUp .

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