Mr S Gatebe and Mr Mokoena approached the Committee for intervention following the alleged illegal eviction of themselves and another group of people by the Maluthi-A-Phofung Municipality. The co-petitioners had approached the Committee not only in their own interest, but also in the interest of the rest of the community which they represented.
The petitioners had been staying in stands which had been allocated to them by Chief Tsholo Mopeli of the Bochabela Village. In 2014 they had been approached by the Municipality’s officials, along with members of the South African Police Service, and were informed that they were occupying the land illegally. During the eviction process, their ‘stands’ and belongings had been destroyed. They had subsequently been moved to the Makwane Youth Centre in Qwa-Qwa. The Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Social Development in the Free State had allegedly promised the residents that they would have housing within two to three weeks, but this promise had not been fulfilled.
The petitioners were seeking assistance from the Committee to help them return to their former residence. They had approached the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to assist them, and it had been found that the evictions violated a number of human rights, such as the right to adequate housing, access to information and human dignity. They had also approached a court in Bloemfontein, where it had been found that the Municipality had no right to evict people from the land.
The Committee asked Chief Mopeli why he thought the land was his and why he thought he had the authority to allocate this land to people. It was discovered that the land in discussion was a farm. It had been occupied until 1983, when the farm owner had left. It had then been developed, with the help of the Municipality.
The hearing was postponed to the following day due to the Committee being pressed for time.
Opening and Welcome
The Chairperson welcomed Mr Sello Gatebe, Mr Mokoena, Chief Tsholo Mopeli, his advisor and Maluthi-A-Phopung municipal officials to Cape Town and wished them a pleasant stay. He assured the petitioners that hearings did not require a quorum so they need not be concerned or worried by the number of Members present for the hearing. He emphasized the fact the Committee expected to hear the truth, and nothing but the truth, and appealed to the petitioners to tell the truth and only state facts in order to avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Hearing on Maluthi-A-Phopung Municipality Petition
Mr Sello Gatebe
Mr Gadebe explained that he and other residents had suffered from the destruction of their shelters during the evictions conducted by the Maluthi-A-Phopung Municipality. They were informal settlers in an informal area. They had been given permission to be in that area by Chief Mopeli, who was Chief of the Bochabela Village. The Chief had placed them there because the area belonged to him and was under his chieftaincy. Mr Gadebe had been residing there from 2013 to 2014. The Municipality had recognized this Village and regarded it as falling under its jurisdiction and district. The Municipality had established a voting station at the Village. After the process of voting, they had been removed.
During the process of removal, the residents’ property and personal items had been destroyed. They had then been moved to a fire station. No proper place had been prepared for the residents to reside and they had not been informed of the whereabouts of their belongings. The residents had been separated into two groups. About 25 residents had been accommodated in informal settlements.
The MEC of Social Development for the Free State, Ms Sisi Ntombela, had moved the residents to the Makwane Youth Centre in Qwa-Qwa. The MEC had explained that this was a temporary settlement and arrangement. At the youth centre, the residents had no food, clothes or blankets. Mr Gadebe felt like no one cared about them. Chief Mopeli had provided clothes, food and blankets for the residents through donations. The MEC had allegedly promised to provide for the residents, but she had allegedly done that for only two weeks. The MEC had allegedly promised the residents that they would receive permanent residence within two to three weeks, but that promise had not been fulfilled. The residents had survived on the food, clothes and blankets Chief Mopeli had managed to provide.
Mr Gadebe questioned why their children and women were suffering so much and subject to such conditions when Nelson Mandela loved children and women so much. Why were women suffering and not enjoying or getting the rights that they had fought so hard for? He questioned what the municipal officials thought of the residents over Christmas, as they had had very little to get by on. Some people had died as a result of these removals. Mr Gadebe explained that he was not saying that the removals were a direct cause of death, but he assumed that some deaths were a result of the pain, stress and trauma the illegal removals had caused and the unknown whereabouts of their property and personal items.
He made a correction to his earlier dates, and said that they had been residing in the area from 2012 to 2014.
Mr Gadebe questioned why the Municipality had established a voting station in the area if it was regarded as an informal settlement. Why was the municipality able to buy roof sheeting for some people and not for others? How did the municipality regard the status of the Chief, compared to King Zwelithini, Chief Mandela and other chiefs? Why did the Municipality wait for the voting process to be complete before removing the residents? Mr Gadebe explained that the residents constituted 82% of the votes. Although the area was regarded as an informal settlement, the Municipality was confident enough that the residents would vote, to establish a voting station in the area.
He explained again that the residents had been separated into two groups. One group had stayed at the Youth Centre while the other group had been placed in a settlement by a cemetery. During the last month, people had been were removed from the Youth Centre and the residents had had to fend for themselves and find a place to settle. In the process of the removals, Mr Gadebe had been pained to see a grandmother (an old lady) in a wheelchair that had no help or assistance, and had lost all her possessions in the removals. He asked what Nelson Mandela would think or say if he was to see that vulnerable people such as children and the old and disabled were not taken care of. He asked which path the Municipality’s officials were taking, because it was a completely different to the path the people they looked up to, such as Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma, had taken. He questioned what the freedom fighters would say, since the democracy they had fought so hard for was not being nurtured or taken care of. The Municipality’s officials were undermining their hard earned victories.
He said that the current councillors were aware of the fact that a Chief currently led Qwa-Qwa. He asked where the residents’ possessions that were taken away during the removals were. He said that they currently did not have homes. They had voted for the African National Congress for a better life for all, but he questioned whether it really had been a better life for all. Currently, the residents were staying at rental places and could be removed at any time because they did not have the money to pay for rent.
Ms G Manopole (ANC, Northern Cape) asked a question in a vernacular language which was not translated into English.
Mr Gatebe responded that they were asking to be allowed to return to their land. They had paid R500, but they did not have the proof of payment because it had been destroyed in the process of the removals.
Mr M Mohapi (ANC, Free State) asked what the standard of the houses were on the site -- whether they had been Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses, and whether they had amenities such as a basic water supply and sanitation. He asked where the residents registered for these houses, how they had been advertised and who had been targeted. He realised that a court ruling had been made regarding the land, and asked what had informed this court ruling and what the outcome was. Were there any other institutions they had solicited assistance from, besides the Human Rights Commission (HRC).
Mr Gatebe responded to the question in a vernacular language which was not translated into English. He explained that only water services were present -- the Municipality did not provide any other services. They had been informed about the sites at a community meeting that had taken place. People had applied and registered for sites at the community meeting. The allocation of sites had also taken place at the community meeting.
Mr Mohapi stressed the importance of the answers to these questions. He explained that if there were other community members/parties involved, the Committee needed to know so that the relevant community members/parties could also be called before the Committee. He spoke of Section 69 of the Constitution. He asked that it be placed on record that Mr Gatebe was speaking under oath. He asked what the HRC’s response was to their petition and case.
Mr Gadebe answered in a vernacular language, and his answer was not translated into English.
Ms Manoplole asked whether the residents understood the implications of the Constitutional Court of Justice, when the residents say that they would like to return to their original residence.
Discussion took place, but there was no translation.
The Chairperson emphasised and clarified that the hearings that were taking place were dealing solely with the alleged illegal removal of the Bokamoso community. The hearings the following day would deal specifically with the alleged lack of and/or poor municipal service delivery. He then asked what Mr Gatebe expected from the Municipality.
Mr Gadebe said that they were speaking on behalf of the residents of Bokamoso Village. He explained that the fact that the Municipality selectively assisted people was wrong and unfair – some had been given material for roofing and some had not beengiven. He complained about the unfairness and unlawfulness of the forced removals, and the residents’ missing possessions.
Mr M Mhlanga (ANC, Mpumalanga) asked whether the residents had received any form of confirmation from the local councillor that the area that they were living in was an informal settlement. He explained that this was important because if that was the case, an application should have been made to the Department of Public Works (DPW), stating that it was confirmed as an informal settlement, so that the DPW could provide water services and any other assistance and services regarding infrastructure.
Mr Gadebe said that the residents had not received any form of confirmation from the councillor. They regarded the Chief as the rightful authority.
Mr Mohapi asked whether the residents had established whether Chief Mopeli was cooperating with the Municipality.
Mr Gadebe said they had not confirmed this. As subjects of Chief Mopeli, they trusted him and accepted things as they were.
Ms Manopole spoke in a vernacular language, and her question was not translated into English.
The Chair clarified that the petitioners were pleading to the Committee about the inhumane way that they had been removed from their homes, while the court case was between Chief Mopeli and the Municipality.
Ms Manopole explained that she raised had the question, because of the response that had been provided by Mr Gadebe.
Mr Gadebe said that they had not included all that was meant to have been included because they were traumatized and it had slipped their minds to include everything.
Mr Mohapi said that on 9 June 2014, the Chief had notified everyone about the possible eviction. He pointed out that the residents had been informed about the evictions prior to them taking place.
Mr Gadebe responded that not all of the residents understood English. He agreed that they had been informed about the possible evictions, but the problem was that many people were not home when the notices were given, so they were not aware of the possible evictions.
Mr Mohapi stated that a public meeting was held on 10 June 2014, which meant that Mr Gadebe’s arguments that residents were not at home at the time of the notice, or their inability to read or understand English, did not hold. He then emphasized Section 69 of the Constitution and the fact that everything that Mr Gadebe had said was on record. He pointed out that notice had been given and that residents had been given a warning and time to prepare for these evictions. He said the Committee was not there to interrogate him, but were simply there to gather information so they could adequately assist the community in resolving this matter and make an informed decision.
Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) called for a point of order that the interpretation, from English to vernacular, be placed on record.. Mr Julius requested this in order to ensure that no misrepresentation or misinterpretation took place in the translation.
Mr Gadebe said that he had been traumatized and as a result could not include everything in his report to the Committee.
Mr Mohapi said that his question was based on what had transpired before the trauma of the eviction and destruction of property. Before the alleged illegal evictions, he would have been in the right state of mind and not traumatized. Mr Mohapi noted a contradiction in the petitioner’s account of events.
The interpreter was asked to speak more loudly and not whisper the translation to Mr Gadebe.
Mr Gadebe said that the meeting had taken place at a time when not everyone could attend due to work. The Chief had not held the meeting at18h00, when most people would be home from work. A number of community members who were not at the meeting had then drafted a letter to Parliament.
Ms Manopole asked whether Mr Gadebe was confirming that they did not receive the letter of notice, which was a court order, because Mr Gadebe had stated that some people had received it, while others had not.
Mr Gadebe answered the question in a vernacular language, and his response was not translated.
Ms Manopole explained to Mr Gadebe that the Committee was not a court of law, but was there to seek clarity in order to adequately support and assist them. She said Mr Gadebe was currently contradicting himself and that was making it difficult for the Committee to assist him. She reiterated what Mr Mohapi had said -- that the Committee was not there to interrogate him. She pleaded with him to tell the Committee the truth. She then asked who had compiled the letter.
Mr Julius said there was a difference between being traumatized and being angry. Those feelings were subjective and dependent on the person feeling them and how they viewed them. As a result, he felt that there was no point in dwelling on the issue of feelings because it was not worth the time. The Committee should instead deal with the matter at hand.
Ms Manopole said that it was not the time to deliberate.
The Chairperson clarified that there would be time for deliberation and discussion, but at the moment the Committee was required to apply their minds and listen.
Mr Julius accepted Ms Manopole’s point.
The Chairperson said that the Committee must reserve their opinions, and that this was not a debate.
Ms Manopole pointed out that the Committee did not have written confirmation or proof that Mr Gadebe was representing other residents.
Mr Gadebe responded in a vernacular language, but it was not translated into English.
Mr Mohapi advised Mr Gadebe that ignorance could never be used as an excuse.
Mr Gadebe stated that he understood that, but unfortunately he could not do what he did not know. He explained that if they had known, they would have brought it with them.
The Chairperson asked whether Mr Gadebe had ever had discussions with the Municipality over the issue that they were not meant to be occupying the space.
Mr Gadebe said that they had requested a meeting with the Municipality numerous times, but they had not responded.
Mr Gadebe’s petition was concluded, and the Chairperson called on Mr Mokoena to speak.
Mr Mokoena said it had been discovered that Chief Mopeli was selling and renting land at a cheap price. The residents had tried to meet with the Municipality on four different occasions, to no avail, so they had concluded that the land belonged to the Chief and had explored other avenues to deal with the matter. Chief Mopeli had decided to charge R500 for a property, but this did not include the title deeds – only the Municipality could give title deeds. Mr Mokoena said he felt that the Municipality might have acted in the way that they had in order to undermine Chief Mopeli.
It had been found by Land Affairs that the Municipality was not authorized to evict people from the land. A case was had been opened in Bloemfontein and the judge had said that the Municipality had no authority to remove people, only the owner of the land could do so.
The Chairperson spoke in a vernacular language, but it was not translated into English.
Mr Mokoena said that they had written a letter for assistance to Parliament, because the court in Bloemfontein had said that only the landowner could evict people. He explained that while he was at work, he had received a call informing him that there were police in his area. He arrived home to find a notice and had asked what the notice was for, but had received no answer. A meeting had been arranged for the next day. Some residents had gone to Bloemfontein to seek assistance from the HRC.
Mr Mokoena had received a call from his cousin telling him to prepare for the eviction. When he was leaving for work, the area was being destroyed and people were being evicted. Some people were left behind, while others were taken away. The residents’ possessions were taken but nobody knew where they had been taken. Chief Mopeli had assisted people to move to the Youth Centre. Some residents had decided to stay and sleep at the demolished site.
They had written to Parliament for assistance. They wanted to know the motive behind the forced removals, especially since the site was recognised according to the Demarcation Board. He said that 82% of the 1 060 people had voted for the ANC. He did not understand the motives of the Municipality. They had been facing some challenges with the fact that the Municipality was trying to establish a cemetery around the same area. They did not know where to bury their people.
Mr Mokoena said that all of the residents wanted to go back to their former residence, and pleaded with the Committee to assist them.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Mokoena and called on Chief Mopeli to clarify why he allocated land that was not his.
Chief Mopeli thanked the National Council of Provinces for allowing them to come before the Committee and discuss the issue at hand. He explained that they respected the law, which was why they used the avenues afforded to them by the government. He explained that they were there to discuss the legality of evicting the residents.
He informed the Committee that on 14 May 2015, the HRC had established that the evictions that had taken place had violated the following rights:
- the right to human dignity;
- the right to housing;
- access to information.
He said that they had gone to the HRC as their second hope, as they had thought that the Constitutional Court would confirm that the land belonged to their forefathers. They were under the impression that they had a tangible claim to the land. He assumed that the lack of a title deed was what had led to the ruling, and said that that was the case with most rural settlements.
They had made a plea to the Municipality to place everyone on the list of the court order accordingly. The Municipality had said that there would be alternative residences for the people evicted. However, only some people had received assistance from the Municipality. Chief Mopeli highlighted the main issues and asked how the people would be accommodated if they were not given residences? Promises had been made that had not been fulfilled -- what would be done to fulfil the promises that had been made so the people could live in peace?
The Chairperson asked what had made Chief Mopeli believe that the land belonged to him and that he had the right to make allocations.
Chief Mopeli explained that his father had been the Chief before him, and he had inherited the land from him. Every year, the Municipality sent out letters to Chiefs so they could determine where traditional initiation schools would be located. He said that the land had been a farm before, and they had initially been separated from this farm by a fence. When the farm owner left in 1983, the Village had used the space with the assistance of the Municipality. He said that the Chiefdom had allocated sites, and the Municipality had not questioned this. They had built RDP houses in that area and had helped to develop it. The Municipality had assisted and supported the Village, and had given the residents services.
The Chairperson stopped Chief Mopeli and asked to pause there. Tthe hearing would continue the next day, as the Committee was pressed for time.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Content of the Bokamoso Village Petition
- Content of the Maluthi-A-Phofung Municipality Petition
- Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality Petition (Petition from Mr Sello B Gatebe and Mr Mokoena, Free State Province regarding alleged illegal eviction by Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality)
- Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality Petition (Petition from Mr Sello B Gatebe and Mr Mokoena, Free State Province regarding alleged illegal eviction by Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality)
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