Housing activists and residents of informal settlements, who recently occupied land during the lockdown, marched to the City of Cape Town offices to mark Bulelani Qolani’s litigation against the city and to highlight the brutality that they continue to face at the hands of the city’s Law Enforcement Unit. In July 2020, the City of Cape Town’s Land Invasion Unit dragged the naked Qolani out of his house as they were carrying out evictions and demolishing houses. The video was broadcast on national television and the actions of the police were widely condemned. At the time, Qolani and other residents laid charges against the City of Cape Town, the Anti-Invasion Unit and some members of the mayoral council that are responsible for human settlements and safety and security.
The 8th of February marks the launch of a case against the City of Cape Town by Qolani. Addressing the protestors outside the civic centre, Qolani said that the day was not just about what he went through but what others in occupations around the city are subjected to at the hands of law enforcement officers. “It’s not just about my pain but our collective pain as residents of informal settlements. We are here to get what is ours, which is the land. I want my dignity back. It was not just the physical pain that they inflicted on me but also the emotional pain. I can’t sleep well at night because of stress. People who know me will tell you that I have lost weight,” he said.
In July 2022, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the City of Cape Town’s eviction of Qolani and the attempted demolition of his home was unlawful and unconstitutional. The city is appealing the ruling.
Qolani was dragged naked out of his home by the Anti-Invasion Unit of the City of Cape Town on the 1st of July 2020, during the Covid lockdown.
Qolani’s lawyer, Danielle Louw said that they had been in settlement negotiations with the city since 2021. “The settlement negotiations were unsuccessful and that is when Bulelani instructed us to say now we are going to court. This is because it is his right. He has a right to compensation for the injuries that were done to him and more so the emotional scars as well as the harm to his dignity,” Louw said.
Qolani is suing the City of Cape Town for over R1,4-million for physical injuries, medical expenses for psychotherapy and trauma counselling, loss of hearing, emotional shock and impairment to his dignity.
Harassment and police brutality continues in land occupations
Housing activists and leaders of communities that occupied vacant land during the Covid lockdown narrated how they continue to be harassed by the City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement and Anti-Invasion Units. Kennett Matlawe from Housing Assembly called for the defunding of the police as they continue to be brutal and violent against the poor. “We live in areas without basic services and our shacks are falling apart and yet the police continue to be violent to us. Women are the ones who feel the brunt of the violation. We need to defund the police,” he said.
“Women have to relieve themselves in unsafe spaces because we do not have basic services like toilets,” said Luthando Mncuthulwa from Covid-19 informal settlement near Driftsands.
Nikelwa Maqula from Backstage informal settlement in Makhaza said that there are constant attacks on housing and land activists around the country: “There are attacks and killings of activists in KZN at the moment and the police and the police minister are not doing anything about it,” she said.
“Why must we fight for basic services like water and other services. Why must we fight for our basic rights while those in power live comfortable. There are people living in the Cape Town CBD and they do not have water and sanitation,” said Riaan Koeberg from Mitchells Plain.
Mabhelandile Twani from Intlungu yase Matyotyombeni said that the city continues to harass and intimidate them. “If they see you extending your shack or fencing your yard, they demolish your shack and confiscate your material. We are supposed to apply at an office in Ottery that is not easy to find. We view it as another form of racism. We are being punished for occupying land,” said Twani.
The memorandum was accepted and signed by Vincent Botto, the city’s executive director for safety and security. Botto promised that the city would respond to the protestors within seven days.