On Thursday, Human Settlements Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu announced names of members of a ministerial inquiry into the evictions of informal dwellers from Sanral owned land. This follows a long standing wrangle on the issue of the illegal settlers on the land in question. While it is accepted that the land belongs to the South African roads agency, there was a lot of mud slinging when it came to how the squatters came to be there as well as why they were allowed to stay there as long as they did. According to the esteemed minister, Sisulu, the commission will conclude its work on August 5 and then present her with the findings. Forgive me for being sceptical but was that the best way the minister could have dealt with this? Indulge me some of your time brethren. Allow me to take a radical look at this whole scenario.
For starters, everybody in the Mother City is aware of the adverse weather that will be affecting that part of the country in the next few weeks, not in August. It does not need a huge stretch of imagination to realise that, in the more than 849 families, there are hoardes of children that will be out in the cold on one of the coldest nights in one of the coldest countries in Africa. What are we saying will happen to these children? Remember again that this is the children’s protection week!
In their response to the squatter situation, the City of Cape Town argued that the land in question did not belong to them and they therefore were not under any obligation to police the squatters. Allow me to ask how somebody who claims to be a City Father abdicates such responsibility for their disadvantaged citizens. Furthermore, it is reported that one council official stated after the protests that temporary accommodation would be sought for the squatters adding that they would not like to encourage forceful and illegal settling on private land. While this may be true, what was the relevance of mentioning it at a time when people were suffering. It was a time when people had to be called to action.
It is also pertinent for me to point out that this whole furore could have been solved way back in 2003 when the squatters started moving into the land. The representative of Sanral points out that they tried to engage the city fathers and find an alternative land for the people to no avail. It is being whispered that there is evidence that the City of Cape Town blocked attempts to find alternative land for the people. The question that begs an answer is why they blocked these attempts!
Turning to Sanral, the owners of the land, having obtained the court order to evict the squatters, waited until this week. Why would they have waited this long? Further, what is special about this time in particular. Could it not have waited until after winter? The mind boggles!
When the news of the evictions were heard, several ministers quickly upped and went to find out what the matter was and, everyone hopped, to find immediate ways in which the people could be helped. It is disheartening to hear that, after her ‘tour of duty’, Human Settlement Minister decided that the best course of action was a call to action! Instead of finding a solution for the desperate evictees, the minister decided to sit down in some posh, warm office with equally posh men and women and decide to talk about a solution for people who are out in the cold.
Minister, what is needed is not that we need to find out what happened to the evictees! We know that already! They were evicted! What we need is to help them to be warmer and more comfortable in the wake of a harsh winter!