The struggle for urban land is set to heat up as land occupations – and court actions to defend them – escalate.
Ahead of next year’s local government elections, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will continue its land occupation programme, which has seen more than 100 small-scale occupations, while other rights groups are set for a series of court actions on which the future of thousands of squatters living on government-owned land hinges.
EFF national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said his party would continue its land occupations “slowly but surely” as branches mobilised people who had been on housing waiting lists for more than a decade, or who had been evicted and were looking for shelter.
All eyes will be on the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban on May 21, when it is scheduled to rule on the validity of a KwaZulu-Natal government regulation banning occupations of land earmarked for housing and other state development by homeless people’s movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.
The hearing is a result of a challenge to the blanket order issued by provincial human settlements MEC Ravi Pillay last year, which has been used by the eThekwini municipality to evict communities in Cato Crest and Lamontville who had built shacks on land earmarked for city housing projects.
After a series of court challenges, the Constitutional Court referred the decision on the validity of the blanket order to the KwaZulu-Natal High Court.
Abahlali spokesperson S’bu Zikode said the ruling would determine the future of thousands of the movement’s estimated 25 000 members living in more than 70 shack settlements throughout the city and in other towns.
The movement has been active in Durban since 2005, working with squatter communities to stop evictions and to force the city to provide either formal housing or services.
“The blanket order has been used to evict communities in a way similar to the Slums Act, which was overturned by the court. It is a vague order that not only seeks to evict people who are in occupation of land, but to evict those who have not yet occupied it,” said Zikode.
Zikode said the group was also looking at legal action to prevent the province’s move to set up a privatised land claims unit, which would prevent land invasions and evict squatters. Tenders for the unit went out earlier this year.
“We are defending people’s rights to house themselves,” he said