Gatebe and Mokoena petition: eviction by Maluthi-A-Phofung Municipality: Continuation of hearing

NCOP Petitions and Executive Undertakings

27 May 2015
Chairperson: Mr S Thobejane (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee continued with its hearing on the petition lodged by Mr Gatebe and Mr Mokoena, in relation to the allegedly illegal eviction of the occupants of the Bluegumbosch Farm, by the Maluthi-A-Phofung Municipality. Chief Tsholo Mopeli explained to the Committee that he believed that the land belonged to him and was under his authority, mainly because the Maluthi-A-Phofung Municipality (Municipality) had assisted and supported the Bokamosa Village in developing the area and establishing business sites and building Reconstruction and Development (RDP) houses. The area in contention, known as ‘Bluegumbosch 199’, was previously a farm owned by a white owner. In 1983 the farm owner left and Chief Mopeli’s forefathers occupied their land and developed it, with the help and cooperation of the Municipality, thus creating the impression that ownership vested in that community. No title deeds were held by anyone, but the land fell under and was serviced by the Municipality. Members questioned the Chief as to why he and his forefathers were under the impression that they had acquired ownership of the land, given that there were no records of any agreements with the previous owner, and also asked whether any land claims had been submitted.

The Municipal Manager for Housing, Policy and Technical Support presented the Municipality’s case, and noted that an eviction order, claiming illegal occupation, had been obtained by the Municipality and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform against Morena Tsholo Mopeli, Mabolela Traditional Council, the unlawful occupiers as well as potential occupiers of the remainder of the Farm “Bluegumbosch 199” in the Harrismith District. Eviction orders were granted by the Free State High Court on five occasions between February and July 2012, and each time Chief Mopeli took the matter on appeal, with a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal, dismissed on 6 November and application to appeal to the Constitutional Court, which was dismissed on 23 May 2014.

Failure of Chief Mopeli and others to successfully appeal the Court’s decision meant that the Municipality had to carry on with the eviction of the land. A number of meetings took place with a number of local parties discussing and planning how the eviction process would take place and how the Municipality would deal with the aftermath. The evictions took place on 11 June 2014. Homes were demolished, belongings moved to a place unknown to the residents and many were left destitute. The Municipality provided temporary shelter at the Phuthaditjaba Fire Station and Makwane Youth Centre to 55 people in 39 families, who were regarded as "destitute", and these people were provided with temporary food, clothes, blankets and shelter. The Municipality later built 21 shacks, each to take two families, over the following days.

Members wanted to clarify where the village was, and whether it fell under the Municipality, and asked if any formal land claims had been lodged. They asked whether anyone held title deeds, and also asked for any explanation of any discussions or agreements that there might have been with the previous land owner, since nothing had been placed on record. They questioned the extent and nature of the Chief's interaction with the municipality, and whether he was officially recognised.  

The Municipal Manager was asked to present the Municipality's version of events, and firstly commented on the short space of time to prepare. The details of the meetings and preparation were set out, from 23 May 2014, when the final Court order was given to carry out the eviction orders. Meetings had been held, to discuss and plan for the eviction on the day, the roles of various parties, including ambulance, police and traffic services, and for the Executive Mayor to find a way to communicate to the residents. The responsibilities of the various parties were explained. It was decided that evictions would take place on 11 June, and the Municipality had made provision for food and shelter for residents. The Municipality had anticipated 100 people being declared destitute. The eviction had been relatively peaceful, but by the end of the day, 39 destitute families remained, and they were temporarily moved to the Phuthaditjaba Fire Station, apparently with clear expectations and statements being conveyed to all. On 12 and 13 June the Municipality assisted with building at a new site, but noted on 13 June an influx of more people, who were not as much in need, but had been misinformed that the Municipality was helping to build free housing and they were requested to return to their home areas. The Makwane Youth Centre was temporarily allocated, and people were moved there from the Fire Station on 13 June.

Members were worried whether the figures and statistics were fully correct, and whether the presenter had actual or hearsay knowledge about the reports from the Department of Social Development, also questioning some of the numbers which appeared to be contradictory. They asked if the Chief was involved in the process and how he was treated, what the criteria were for "destitute", questioned the numbers of new structures and asked for detailed figures, which would be provided in writing including the figures on people. The hearing was postponed, but the Committee noted a plea from one Member to conclude this as soon as possible. A site visit may be paid to the area.

Meeting report

Continuation of Hearing: Petition from Mr Sello B Gatebe and Mr Mokoekna, Free State Province on the alleged illegal eviction by the Maluthi-A-Phofung Municipality
The Chairperson called on Chief Tsholo Mopeli to continue with his case and explanation of why he felt that the land belonged to him, and why he thought that he had the authority to allocate land to the people.

Chief Mopeli presented his case in English in order to save time. He explained that initiation schools were conducted in the Bluegumbosch area, which was previously a farm and had been occupied by the Chiefdom in 1983, when the farm owner left. Business sites and Reconstruction and Development sites were established and assigned, with the assistance and cooperation of the Maluthi-A-Phopung Municipality. Land for livestock was also given.

In 2007 the Bokamoso Village approached the Municipality and proposed to establish a cemetery, since the Village wanted to develop a formal burial site. He had believed, given the level of support and assistance given by the Maluthi-A-Phopung Municipality (the Municipality) in developing the area and working with the community, he had gained the impression that the land now belonged to the community. If not, then he questioned why his forefathers had never had it explained to them that the land did not belong to them (if that was indeed true, as was now alleged).

On the following dates, in succession, the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein ruled in favor of the Municipality and the Department by awarding an order that the defendants be evicted from the land: 27 February 2012, 22 March 2013, 26 April 2012, 22 June 2012 and 12 July 2012. Every time a court order was awarded Chief Mopeli and others applied for an appeal. They further applied for an appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal which dismissed it again on 6 November 2013. They also applied for an appeal with the Constitutional Court which was dismissed on 23 May 2014.

Failure of Chief Mopeli and others to successfully appeal the Court’s decision meant that the Municipality had to carry on with the eviction of the land. A number of meetings took place with a number of local parties discussing and planning h

Chief Mopeli explained that on 10 June 2014 the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) wrote a letter to the Municipality recommending and advising that the evictions be put off until the Municipality had advised the residents how they would be evicted, and to where and when they would be moved.

Chief Mopeli began to briefly discuss the problems with the infrastructure provided by the Municipality, such as the lack of an adequate sewage system.

The Chairperson interrupted Chief Mopeli and informed him that currently the Committee was not discussing the issue of infrastructure and service delivery challenges, as that matter would be dealt with separately. This hearing was confined to the matter of the alleged forced removals of the people of the Bokamoso Village.

The Chairperson opened up the floor for questions of clarity and emphasised to the Committee that Members should ask questions of clarity only, with any opinions and debates to be expressed in the private Committee deliberation.

Mr D Ximbi (ANC, Western Cape) asked whether the Village was under the Municipality or a rural area.

Chief Mopeli explained that the Municipality was the Village’s service provider, and that the Village was in a rural area and the rural area is under the Municipality.

Mr Ximbi asked whether Chief Mopeli had submitted a claim for the land to the Land Claims Commission.

Chief Mopeli said that no formal claim was made, such as the one that was now presently proceeding.

Mr Ximbi asked whether there were any title deeds to the land.

Chief Mopeli explained that it was communal land and that there were no title deeds provided to any person. He had understood that the land is government land and that government accordingly is the title deed holder.

Mr M Mohapi (ANC, Free State) welcomed and applauded Chief Mopeli’s presentation, and his respect for the South African Constitution as he explored various avenues afforded to him by the Constitution to support and assist his case. Mr Mohapi highlighted some of the points and matters that Chief Mopeli discussed, such as the naming of the area, the practices that took place under that jurisdiction and the cooperation of the Municipality on a number of occasions. He was amazed at the full understanding around these practices.

The Chairperson interrupted Mr Mohapi and emphasised that the Committee needed to ask clarity-seeking questions and not share Members' opinions at this point, both in order to protect the Committee and the petitioners.

Mr Mohapi explained that he was getting to his question. He explained that Chief Mopeli had said that the white owner of the farm left in 1983 and that the farm had been separated from the community's land by a fence. He then asked whether the community had at any stage asked the farm owner for the land when he had left, whether the community or Chief had entered into any agreement with him, or whether the farm owner approached Chief Mopeli’s forefathers and told them he was donating or giving the land to them, and whether any of that had been communicated to the Municipality.

Chief Mopeli said he did not now know of any formal agreement or handover between the various parties that were involved; he was only born in 1983.

Mr Mohapi stated that there was no record of an agreement made between the farm owner and Chief Mopeli’s forefathers. Mr Mohapi highlighted that there were laws and practices, but there were also legislative obligations. He gave an example and explained that in terms of land management regulations, a person would need to consult with and obtain consultation with various neighbours if he wished, for example, to open up a tavern on a particular site, but the mere fact of consent did not apply ownership of the site.

Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) stated that the fact that Mr Mohapi was making comments was out of line. On the previous day, it was stressed that the Committee Members would not draw conclusions, interrogate or share their opinions. He stated that these comments were clouding his observations and his attempts to be open-minded

Mr Mohapi stated that he was not coming to any conclusion or determination, and his questions were purely for clarity.

The Chairperson asked whether Chief Mopeli was formally participating in the Municipality as a representative of his community.

Chief Mopeli explained that Municipal structures such as the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) allowed for participation, but he was excluded from and not involved in the implementation stage.

The Chairperson confirmed that he was not formally participating in the Municipality.

Chief Mopeli agreed with this and stated that he and his fellow traditional councilors were not formally included or participating in the Municipality.

The Chairperson asked whether Chief Mopeli was formally recognized as a Traditional Representative and Councillor of his community, by the authorities.

Chief Mopeli said he was formally recognised.

The Chairperson called on Mr M Mokoena, Municipal Manager for Housing, Policy and Technical Support to put his point of view. The Chairperson explained to the Committee that the Municipality had asked to postpone this meeting so that it could bring a legal team, but the Chairperson had refused that request.

Mr Mohapi expressed support for this response. He pointed out that section 69 of the Constitution gave the Committee the power to summon any person to come before the Committee. He asked that this be placed on record.

Mr Mokoena explained that he had only received the invitation to attend the petition on Friday and that it was unclear what the meeting was about, and what was expected of the Municipality. He explained that naturally, his first response was to think of legal involvement.

The Chairperson apologised for the short notice. He explained that this was due to the fact that the Committee had decided that this petition's hearing needed to take place this week, as it was a pressing matter.

Mr Julius requested that it be put on record that Mr Mokoena may not be able to do justice to the hearing, given his complaint about being informed about the hearing in short notice. He asked whether Mr Mokoena was ready to present.

Mr Mokoena explained that he had consulted the relevant parties on this matter and collected adequate information, and would be able to do justice to the hearing and assist the House.

Mr Mohapi told Mr Mokoena that if he did not have the information to answer any questions that the Committee may ask, it would be acceptable for him to say he did not know. He could submit that information later on to the Committee.

Mr Mokoena explained that there were two main issues at hand. The first related to the requests brought forward by Mr Gadebe and Mr Mokoena, that dealt with the evictions and the issues surrounding the evictions. The second issue related to the process. He dealt with the process leading up to the evictions first as he felt that this would subsequently speak to the issues that were raised by the petitioners.

On 23 May 2014 a final court order was given for the execution of the eviction orders. The eviction orders had arrived at the Municipality shortly before the 27 May 2014. On 28 May 2014 the first meeting was held, to discuss the commencement of preparation for the evictions. The people present at the meeting were Mr Mokoena, the Chief Town Planner, the Executive Mayor, the Land Administration Manager, the Informal Settlement Manager and the Director for Public Transport and Safety. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what should happen on the day and how it should happen, and also to advise the Executive Mayor on his role in the process. The Executive Mayor was expected to find a way to communicate the evictions to the community without the Municipality having to forcefully remove the residents.

It was resolved that all government departments who had a role to play in the eviction process needed to be informed and alerted about what they would be expected to do. The Ambulance Department, Traffic Department and a security company were identified as key role players in the eviction process.

On 29 May 2014, a second meeting was held. Mr Mokoena clarified to the Committee that when he referred to the Human Settlement Department or Local Housing Section, it referred to himself, the Land Administration Manager, the Director and the Chief Town Planner. The people who were present at that meeting were the Housing Section, Public Safety and Legal representation to represent the Municipality, and the Sheriff of the Court. The purpose of the meeting was to seek advice from the various parties present on the way forward, and to determine what legal precautions the Municipality should take prior to the execution of the plan. It was indicated that a promise was made to the Court that the evictions would be carried out in accordance with the law, which implied that the safety of people occupying the land and any bystanders would be guaranteed. The Municipality was advised to hire experts to do the evictions. It was also advised to immediately meet with the South African Police Services (SAPS) and begin to plan the evictions. The Safety Director was required to submit the relevant documents stating that the Court had ordered the evictions to take place.

On 3 June 2014, another meeting took place, involving the Human Settlement Department, SAPS, Public Safety, the Sheriff of the Court, SAPS legal services and Iceburg Securities. The security company was given the opportunity to present on the plan of action, the various parties present had the opportunity to comment on the presentation  and the plan was amended accordingly. The plan indicated what would take place on the day of the evictions. There would be five teams; the first team would enter the houses and ensure that no one was inside and that there were no hazards present on site. The second team would remove the belongings inside the residents’ homes. The third team would dismantle the ‘shacks’. The fourth team would load everything into a truck. The fifth team would offload all the goods at the selected venue. It was identified that bulldozers would be needed, due to the fact that the houses were formal structures.

The Municipality was given the responsibility to ensure that whatever was taken from the site would be placed temporarily in a safe place. The Municipality was responsible for the marking off of ‘shacks’ and the content found in those ‘shacks’, in order to ensure that belongings were returned to rightful owners. The Traffic Department was required to provide manpower on the day, for crowd control and traffic control. The Fire Department was expected to arrive with a fire engine at the site in case one was needed. It was also expected to provide stand-by ambulance services. The department responsible for electricity was responsible for checking and cutting off electricity before the destruction of homes. The SAPS had the responsibility to ensure that the Public Order Unit was present for crowd control. The Municipality was also advised to use politicians to persuade the residents to leave the site.

That meeting was adjourned to the 5 June 2014. The Human Settlement Department, Public Safety, Environmental Affairs, The Ambulance Department, Iceburg Securities and SAPS were present at the later meeting, when it was finally decided that the evictions would take place on 11 June 2014. All units were to assemble at 04h00 at Phuthaditjhaba Police Station and move into the site at 05h00. The Sheriff of the Court would arrive at the site and read the order at 05h30. Iceburg Securities would then follow and execute the plan as discussed.

Mr Mokoena explained that provision of food and shelter was made for the residents for the evening and the next day. As far as the Municipality was aware, 35 sites were made available for those who were destitute. The Municipality expected 100 residents to be destitute. The plan was to place two people in a site, and this would be the arrangement until the talks with Chief Mopeli were complete and the establishment of the new township was complete. There were talks with the Chief of the Mokwane Village and the Municipality was expecting the approval of the township establishment plan.

Mr Mokoena stated that everything on the day of the eviction, 11 June 2014, went peacefully and that the plan was carried out as it was planned, although it was not a great experience. The Municipality ended up with 39 destitute people around 19h00 in the evening. He clarified that there were 55 individuals who made up 39 families. He explained that while they were waiting on the approval to move people to the Mokwane Youth Centre, they were situated near the gate of the University of Free State, and provided the people with food. No confirmation was received about the Mokwane Youth Centre, so the people were then moved to the Phuthaditjaba Fire Station. It was explained to the people that the fire station was a temporary place of safety, and that it was not a permanent residence. The Municipality informed the people that they would be allocated to a site the following day, and that they may have to share sites with other people. They were promised food for the duration that they would be under the care of the Municipality. The Municipality would assist in building ‘shacks’.

On 12 June 2014, the construction of “shack” began. The Municipality did not start at the initial planned time because the company that was meant to deliver the building items was delayed. By 23h00 only eight ‘shacks’ had been built. There were 21 ‘shacks’ built altogether.

On 13 June 2014 the Municipality continued building ‘shacks’. By 23h00 about eleven families had shelter. When they returned to the Fire Station, they noted that there had been a further influx of people, who were not seen as destitute to the same degree as the other 39 families. Mr Mokoena noted that the people were not happy, but they controlled their anger when the Municipality explained the situation.

The Municipality was advised that the people who had recently arrived at the fire station were not stranded, but instead they had been told that the Municipality was providing housing for the people at the fire station, so that they had decided also to come to stay at the fire station in the hopes of getting free housing from the Municipality. The Municipality made an announcement that those who had a place to stay already should leave and go back to that place. The Municipality would only be providing housing for the people listed on the court order. No arrangement was made in terms of food for those people who were not part of the 39 families the Municipality was aware of.

The MEC of Social Development for the Free State, MEC Ntombela, offered the Makwane Youth Centre as a place of refuge, but only if it was inspected and found to be in the right condition for accommodation. She also stressed that this was only a temporary arrangement. The Human Settlement team inspected the Youth Centre, which was found to be suitable in terms of infrastructure and facilities. The Municipality ensured that there was water and electricity at the venue.

Mr Mokoena stated that the people were moved from the fire station to the Youth Centre on 13 June 2014 (but this date might be subject to correction). He estimated that around 75 people moved to the Youth Centre, and stated that most other people had gone back to where they had accommodation and shelter already, as was advised.

Mr Mohapi raised a concern about the reference to the report from the Department of Social Development; the Committee did not have this report in front of them and did not know whether Mr Mokoena was entirely accurate in what he was reporting. It was of concern that this report had not been submitted to the Committee.

The Chairperson echoed Mr Mohapi’s concerns and advised Mr Mokoena to speak only to matters that he knew personally.

Mr Mokoena assured the Committee that he knew what he was speaking of, and that what was he was reporting to the Committee was not hearsay, because it was discussed in meetings, and even if he had not been personally present, he had been represented through his colleagues in the Human Settlement Development division. All of what he had reported was recorded in the minutes and he could produce the evidence.

The Chairperson then asked Mr Mokoena whether he was representing his colleagues.

Mr Mokoena stated that he was.

Ms G Manolope (ANC, Northern Cape) indicated that she did not had an indication that indeed a meeting took place in the community, where the Mayor informed the residents about the evictions. She observed that the Mayor, between 28 May 2014 and 11 June 2014, apparently gave no feedback or indication of this, and there was no follow up made to ensure or confirm that that meeting took place. She asked when the Municipality found out that the Youth Centre was no longer available for shelter. She questioned how the Municipality could not provide for more than 39 families or have enough blankets and mattresses for more than 39 families, when it had initially planned for 100 people, she felt that the numbers presented did not make any sense.

Mr Mohapi pointed out that at the first meeting that took place on 28 May 2014, a number of commitments were made. One of those commitments was for the Mayor to host a community meeting and inform the community about the evictions that would be taking place on 11 June 2014. He asked whether the meeting took place. If so, then he would like to know where and when it took place, and what the outcome of the meeting was. He stated that he too was concerned about the accuracy of Mr Mokoena’s statistics on the people involved in the eviction.

Mr Mohapi questioned who determined the criteria for determining who was destitute and how the Municipality knew whether a person was destitute or not. He asked whether the criteria and determination of what would be regarded as "destitute" was stated in the court order.

Mr Mohapi also asked what Mr Mokoena meant when the people were informed that provision would be made for them, and he asked whether this provision was made for one day or for a number of days, in which case he wanted more detail on exactly how many days. He was confused about the statistics as several numbers had been mentioned. He wanted to know how many people were covered in the Court order, who were regarded as those illegally residing in the informal settlement. He also asked where Chief Tsholo Mopeli was during the initial process and what transpired thereafter and if he had been treated like any other person and member of the community. The Constitution made provision and gave status to traditional authorities and leadership.

With regard to the construction of ‘shacks’, Mr Mohapi asked why the Municipality ended up with only 21 ‘shacks’ when there were 39 families. He noted that two families were being placed in one ‘shack’ and asked how many people were in each family and also whether the Court order had dictated how people should be allocated. He asked Mr Mokoena to elaborate on the number of families who were forcefully removed from the land they occupied illegally. He asked how many people were at the Makwane Youth Centre and what the status quo was currently.

Mr Mokoena explained that the meeting between the Mayor and the community did not take place as was advised, due to Mayoral commitments. Instead the Mayor went on radio and informed the community about the evictions through that avenue.

Mr Mokoena explained that on the evening of the evictions the Makwane Chief was unwilling to give the Youth Centre to the Municipality, so alternative plans had to be made. He explained that there were no criteria given by the court to determine who was destitute.

Mr Mohapi asked how many people were covered by the Court order.

The Chairperson asked Mr Mokoena to confirm or reject whether there were allegedly 730 people on the Court order.

Mr Mokoena explained that he could not verify the number of people on the Court order because he did not have it, or any further information about it, with him.

The Chairperson asked Mr Mokoena to send the Order to the Committee Secretary.

Mr Mohapi asked Mr Mokoena how the Municipality arrived at a figure of 100 people.

Mr Mokoena explained that he did not know, but there was definitely an explanation behind this. He would follow up on the matter and inform the Committee.

Mr Mohapi stated that he was not happy with some of the assumptions.

Mr Mokoena assured the Committee that he would send through all the relevant documents and information to the Committee.

The Chairperson proposed that the meeting be adjourned at this point. He would be proposing that the hearing be concluded on site, so that the .Committee could get a better understanding of the setting and logistics. He also felt that it was not fair of the Committee to expect the parties involved to stay longer or fly to Cape Town.

Ms Manolope supported the Chairperson’s proposal.

Mr Mohapi supported the proposal but pleaded with the Committee to conclude the hearings as soon as possible, because the residents were still facing challenges. The Committee must be mindful of the fact that people were destitute and seeking closure on the matter. He also requested that the Mayor be summoned to the hearing.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Mohapi and said that the Committee would try its best to speed up the process and that all parties would be informed about the hearing timeously.

The meeting was adjourned.


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