City going to court to evict squatters

Ward 63 residents raised concerns with City officials about public safety and vagrancy during a meeting at Wynberg Civic Centre on Wednesday October 26.

The City is seeking eviction orders through the courts to tackle squatting that mushroomed during the pandemic, but many of Wynberg’s vagrancy hot spots will be unaffected as they lie on land owned by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

This emerged during a public meeting, at the Wynberg Civic Centre, on Wednesday October 26, when mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross gave a rundown of the vagrancy hot spots in Wards 62 and 63.

According to Ms Van der Ross, the City’s street people unit knows of 12 homeless people living in Fairways and Southfield; 62 spread across Cecil Road, Gabriel Road and Dan Pienaar Circle in Plumstead; ten at the M5 bridge; and 199 across the Wynberg hot spots, including Wynberg Mosque, Bexhill Road, Waterloo Road, Wetton Road bridge and the taxi rank.

She said the unit regularly assessed the homeless to find out why they were on the street and whether they needed help from the City.

The City’s vagrancy problem had exploded during the Covid pandemic, she said, adding that a task team was working on it, and eviction orders would be sought through the courts. “But what we are also doing on the other side is making sure we have strategically placed, safe spaces that will be managed by our NGOs and NPOs to make sure that when we do have the evictions and it is granted that there is suitable accommodation for those people to go to, where they will get the development that they need.”

Yunus Karriem, chairman of the Wynberg East Civic Association, asked Ms Van der Ross to clarify whether the City’s evictions would cover the Prasa land where most of the vagrancy hot spots were located. She said the City could only seek evictions on land it owned.

A Wynberg East resident said he had moved into the area about four and a half months ago but had already been subjected to robberies due to people loitering in the area.

“Within a week of moving into my new home, I had an attempted break-in. Within six weeks of living there, I had two more. In the last week, the house next door to mine has had four attempted break-ins. Every day, and I mean literally every day when I leave my house, when I come home, I am confronted by people sitting on council land opposite my house using drugs. If they are not sitting there they are sitting on the corner and this has been going on for four and a half months.

“I have communicated with other residents in my area, in the roads around me and they inform me they’ve attempted to communicate with Prasa and Prasa has done nothing. I understand that there is a limit to what the City can do, but, with all due respect, the City turning around and saying its Prasa’s problem is not keeping us safe. I want to know what my tax money is doing to keep me safe and my fellow residents safe.”

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said the City had passed the Unlawful Occupation By-law to reverse the regulations that had been used during the pandemic to prevent evictions.

“It does two important things: it helps us respond to future land invasions more effectively and criminalises the act of invading,” he said, adding that the City was also giving greater priority to complaints about structures being built to prevent them becoming permanent.

“We have 600 eviction applications in the pipeline, the first 25 or 30 of them are in the courts already. The biggest one is in Cape Town CBD which will address 300 structures, for which the City had to build alternative accommodation, which has been done at great cost to the general ratepayers and effectively allows people unlawfully occupying land to queue jump a legitimate beneficiary sitting on housing waiting list,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross gave a rundown of the homelessness hot spots in Wards 62 and 63.