ATC160225: Report of the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings on the Hearing of the Maluti-A-Phofung Petition, held on 26 and 27 May 2015 at Parliament and the Inspection in Loco Conducted on 5 August 2015, at Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality
REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON PETITIONS AND EXECUTIVE UNDERTAKINGS ON THE HEARING OF THE MALUTI-A-PHOFUNG PETITION, HELD ON 26 AND 27 MAY 2015 AT PARLIAMENT AND THE INSPECTION IN LOCO CONDUCTED ON 5 AUGUST 2015, AT MALUTI-A-PHOFUNG MUNICIPALITY
The Maluti-A-Phofung petition (petition), dated 1 August 2014, was received by the Office of the Secretary to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on 11 August 2014 and subsequently referred to the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings (Committee) by the Chairperson of the NCOP on 13 August 2014.
The petition is submitted by Mr Sello Gatebe (Mr Gatebe) and Mr Mokoena Matjele (Mr Matjele) on behalf of former residents of Bochabela – Bokamoso Village (Village). The Village is located in Phuthaditjhaba and falls under the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality (Municipality). The Municipality is in turn located in the Thabo Mafutsanyane District, in the Free State Province.
The Village is under the traditional leadership of Morena Tsholo Mopeli (Morena Mopeli). The petitioners represent approximately 500 families and submitted the petition to the NCOP following their eviction from the Village by the Municipality in June 2014. In the petition, the petitioners contend the eviction was unlawful because the land on which their Village was situated belonged to Morena Mopeli and Morena Mopeli had sold and allocated them parcels of land for residential and agricultural purposes (for rearing pigs, sheep, donkeys, horses and cows and also grazing livestock on the land). The petitioners further contend that following the eviction, a number of their human rights were violated, particularly their right to be given access to suitable alternative housing by the Municipality.
It is important to highlight that the petitioners later submitted a second petition, dated 22 September 2014, to the NCOP in relation to the eviction. The latter petition was received by the Office of the Secretary of the NCOP on 14 October 2014 and reminds the NCOP of the petition submitted to it in August 2014. The petition further restates that the petitioners and the community they represent await the urgent intervention of the NCOP and is accompanied by a detailed report setting out the events leading to the eviction. The report is signed by Morena Mopeli and is written on the letterhead of the Mabolela District Traditional Council.
- PURPOSE OF THE HEARING
After the referral of the petition to the Committee by the Chairperson of the NCOP, the Committee took a decision to hold a hearing on the petition in an attempt to obtain first-hand submissions from the petitioners and stakeholders in relation to the petition.
- COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND OFFICIALS
The following Committee Members were present at the hearing:
3.1 Hon S G Thobejane, ANC, Limpopo;
3.2 Hon M J Mohapi, ANC, Free State;
3.3 Hon LPM Nzimande, ANC, Kwa-Zulu Natal;
3.4 Hon M T Mhlanga, ANC, Mpumalanga;
3.5 Hon G M Manopole, ANC, Northern Cape;
3.6 Hon D L Ximbi, ANC, Western Cape;
3.7 Hon T Wana, ANC, Eastern Cape’
3.8 Hon Michalakis, DA, Free State;
3.9 Hon J W W Julius, DA, Gauteng; and
3.10 Hon M Chetty, DA, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The aforementioned Members were supported by the following officials:
3.1 Mr N Mkhize, Committee Secretary;
3.2 Dr M Gondwe, Content Advisor;
3.3 Ms T Sterris, Committee Researcher; and
3.4 Ms A Zindlani, Committee Assistant.
- STAKEHOLDERS IN ATTENDANCE
The hearing on the petition was also attended by the under listed stakeholders:
4.1 Mr Sello Gatebe, Petitioner;
4.2 Mr Mokoena Matjele, Petitioner;
4.3 Morena Tsholo Mopeli, Traditional Leader of Bochabela – Bokamoso Village, Mabolela District;
4.4 Mr Mooketsi Mokoena, Manger in the Housing Section of the Municipality; and
4.5 Mr Teboho Mkhwanzi, Ward Councillor for Planning and Development, Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality.
- INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY CHAIRPERSON
At the commencement of the hearing the Chairperson welcomed the Members, petitioners and stakeholders in attendance to the hearing on the petition. The Chairperson then proceeded to point out that the petitioners had submitted two petitions to Parliament. The Chairperson indicated that, notwithstanding this, the purpose of the hearing was to consider the first petition submitted by the petitioners to the NCOP given that this was the first petition submitted and pertained to the very same subject matter as the second petition.
Thereafter the Chairperson invited the petitioners and Morena Mopeli to make submissions in relation to the petition submitted to Parliament.
- SUBMISSIONS BY MR GATEBE
In his submissions, Mr Gatebe informed the Committee that he was a resident of the former Village and he is one of the many people who were evicted from the Village by the Municipality and whose belongings had been destroyed in the course of the eviction. He further informed the Committee that Morena Mopeli had allocated them land in the Village because he owned the land on which the Village was situated. He also indicated that they had begun settling on the land from 2012.
Mr Gatebe also apprised the Committee of the circumstances surrounding their eviction from the Village. In this regard, he stated that the Sheriff had served some of them with the eviction papers at their homes, however not all of them had understood the contents of the papers served on them. Moreover some of them were at work when the eviction papers were served on them. He further stated that, in the course of their eviction from the Village, not only were their houses destroyed but so too were some of their belongings. He added that those belongings they could salvage were taken away for safe keeping by the Municipality to an undisclosed location.
He further apprised the Committee that post the eviction, they were all initially accommodated at the Phuthaditjaba Fire Station (fire station) but later a handful of people were resettled at Bluegumbosch. And the remaining people were relocated from the fire station to Makwane Youth Centre (youth centre) following the intervention of the MEC for Social Development, Ms Sisi Ntombela (Ms Ntombela). Further according to Mr Gatebe, the conditions under which they were accommodated at both the fire station and youth centre were deplorable because they had no food, clothes and blankets and Morena Mopeli had to source donations for food and blankets on their behalf. Furthermore, Ms Ntombela had promised to enrol and transport their children to a school located 20 kilometres away from the youth centre however this transport was only provided for a period of 2 weeks and thereafter their children were forced to walk a distance of 40 kilometres a day to and from school.
Mr Gatebe also mentioned that some people passed on whilst accommodated at the youth centre and effectively passed on without knowing where their belongings were being kept by the Municipality. He also expressed the view that he believed that these people passed on as a result of the stress and emotional pain associated with the loss of their houses and belongings. He added that earlier this month those of them who still remained at the youth centre were requested by the Municipality to find their own accommodation as the Municipality could no longer accommodate them.
In concluding his submissions, Mr Gatebe stated that one of the reasons given for their eviction from the Village by the Municipality was that the Village was considered an informal settlement and he found this reason difficult to comprehend because during the previous elections a voting station was set up in the Village by the Municipality. And out of the 1060 residents of the Village, 82% of them had voted for the current administration during the stated elections. He further questioned why the Municipality had set up a voting station in the Village if it indeed regarded the Village to have been an informal settlement. Mr Gatebe also noted the Municipality had never informed them their Village was an informal settlement or that they were illegal squatters up until it had wanted to evict them. Mr Gatebe further revealed the Municipality had also refused to recognise Morena Mopeli as their traditional leader despite the fact that the Municipality as well its councillors know the people in the area have always been led by Marena.
As regards the relief sought in submitting the petition, Mr Gatebe stated that they would like to return to the Village because they had bought land from the Morena Mopeli at R500 (five hundred rand) for a plot or parcel of land.
- SUBMISSIONS BY MR MATJELE
Mr Matjele began his submission by introducing himself as one of the counsellors to Morena Mopeli. He then proceeded to explain that the Morena Mopeli had not sold them the sites per se but had simply allocated them sites at R500 (five hundred rand) per site. He added that they were not given title deeds after the allocation because title deeds were only issued on Municipal owned land and not on communal owed land. He further stated that before Morena Mopeli allocated them the sites, the Municipality was planning to sell the sites for amounts ranging from R38 000 (thirty eight thousand rand) to R40 000 (fourty thousand rand) per site.
Further in his submissions to the Committee, Mr Matjele noted that prior to the eviction the community had, on several occasions, made attempts to have meetings with the Municipality but to no avail. Mr Matjele further advised that prior to the eviction, the practice had been that the Municipality would first seek permission from the relevant traditional leader before making any land allocations. But the current Municipality appeared to be undermining the authority of Morena Mopeli because of his age and as such it had disregarded this practice in making land allocations.
Mr Matjele also informed the Committee of previous land allocations made by Morena Mopeli which in his view had benefitted the community. According to Mr Matjele, Morena Mopeli has allocated land to the youth with a golf course; allocated land for RDP houses; and allocated land for a guest house or game lodge called Club View in Mabolela.
Mr Matjele also attempted to relate the events leading up to the eviction. In this respect he submitted that he was at work on 10 June 2014 when a cousin of his working for the Municipality warned him that they would be evicted. The following day whilst on his way to work, he got a call informing him they were being evicted and when he rushed back home to try and salvage his belongings he had found that they had been destroyed. He added that despite the fact that it was right in the middle of winter and it was cold and wet they were evicted and in the process their homes and possessions were destroyed. Also according to Mr Matjele, post the eviction some people chose to spend the night in the midst of the destruction because they had nowhere to go. Mr Matjele also confirmed that some of the community members had their belongings taken away by the Municipality for safe keeping to an undisclosed location.
In his closing submissions Mr Matjele further confirmed that a voting station had been set up in the Village and 82% of its residents had voted for the current administration. He further stated that it seemed unfair that the same people they had voted into public office were responsible for evicting and displacing them. He further called on the Committee to assist his community in being returned to the Village because there is water and electricity nearby and adequate services can be installed.
- SUBMISSIONS BY MORENA MOPELI
Morena Mpoeli began his submissions, at the hearing, by stating that he and his people respect the law and that is why they took the pains of seeking legal recourse prior to approaching the Committee. He further stated that whether or not they agreed with the various courts judgements handed down in relation to the eviction is not the issue but rather whether the manner in which they were evicted from the Village was lawful and constitutional.
He added that he and his people had also taken the decision to approach the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and in or around 14 May 2015, the SAHRC found that the eviction was in contravention of the rights to human dignity, right of access to information and right of access to adequate housing. Morena Mopeli explained that they had chosen to approach the SAHRC because they had hoped the SAHRC would confirm that the land from which they were evicted from belonged to their forefathers.
He also noted that he had not submitted a land claim to the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs for the simple reason that he understood the land concerned to be communal land and to belong to his people. Morena Mopeli further pointed out that because title deeds were not used in the former homeland of Qwa Qwa nor are they available in the majority of rural areas, it was difficult for them to produce a title deed to prove their ownership in the land. He also revealed that the land adjacent to the former Village used to be a farm and the farm was separated from the Village by a fence. The farm was however later abandoned by its owner, a man by the name of Liddle, and after Liddle abandoned the farm in 1983 the Village took over the farm.
Further in his submissions to the Committee, Morena Mpoeli maintained that his people had tangible reasons to believe that the land on which their Village was located was theirs because, prior to the eviction, the Village enjoyed a healthy relationship with institutions such as San Parks, University of the Free State and the Municipality. The Village even had a cemetery which was located at Mabolela and the initial application for the cemetery was supported by the Municipality. The Village also had a burial site dating back to the early 1900’s and that is why it confounded them that the question of ownership in the land had never risen until now, when he had assumed the traditional leadership role that had been previously occupied by his late father.
Morena Mopeli further informed the Committee that in his capacity as the Chairperson of the Mabolela Tribal Council (Council) he had allocated the land to his people to enable them to farm and rear their livestock. The Council had further allocated parcels of land for the Municipality to build RDP houses and had done this for a long time. The Council had made similar allocations of land for business and residential use and he is in possession of letters confirming the allocations and containing undertakings by the Municipality to provide services to the allocated land. Morena Mopeli also submitted that what would also typically happen is that when the time came for initiation practices to be carried out, the Municipality would request traditional leaders to identify and allocate land on which initiation schools would operate. He emphasised that traditional leaders (and not the Municipality) identified and allocated land for these initiation schools. The only role the Municipality would play in this regard would be to issue health forms to be completed by initiates confirming they had undergone the necessary medical checks before going to an initiation school.
Morena Mopeli concurred with the submissions by the petitioners that not all of them were served with the eviction notice. He also confirmed that some of his people had been resettled at Bluegumbosch but asked what of those people who were not resettled – he asked where these people would be resettled by the Municipality. He also expressed concern that the sites chosen for their resettlement by the Municipality were not adequately serviced yet the Municipality is a service provider for all areas falling under the Municipality including the rural areas.
In ending off his submissions, Morena Mopeli stated he was born in the Village in 1983 and reiterated that he had no title deed to the land concerned. Morena Mopeli went onto assure the Committee that he was a recognised traditional leader and he was also in possession of a letter from the Province recognising him as a traditional leader. He did however point out that he did not participate in the activities of the Municipality as an ex- officio.
As regards the relief sought, Morena Mopeli indicated that he wanted the dignity and hope of his people restored following the eviction and he also hoped Parliament would give his people a message of peace and hope in resolving the petition. Morena Mopeli added that during the court proceedings, the Municipality had indicated it had alternative land for his people’s resettlement and his plea was that Parliament should assist in ensuring his people would be given preference in this resettlement.
- SUBMISSIONS BY MR MOKOENA
After the petitioners and Morena Mopeli had finished making their submissions to the Committee, the Chairperson then requested Mr Mokoena to make his submissions to the Committee.
Mr Mokoena introduced himself as the Manager in the Housing Section of the Municipality and went onto outline the events leading to the eviction. In this regard, Mr Mokoena submitted that on 23 May 2014, the Municipality received the final order for execution of the eviction and on 28 May 2014 the Municipality held its first planning meeting in relation to the eviction. And in addition to himself, the meeting was also attended by the Land Administration Manager, the Chief Town Planner and the Executive Mayor.
The purpose of this initial meeting was to make presentations to the Executive Mayor on how the eviction should be carried out and which departments should be involved in carrying out the eviction. At the meeting it was resolved that the following departments would be involved in the eviction: South African Police Service (SAPS); legal department; ambulance department; traffic department; and the expert security company that would be assisting the Municipality with the eviction. It was further resolved at this particular meeting that the Executive Mayor would try and reason with the former residents of the Village in an attempt to avoid the eviction from taking place.
Mr Mokoena informed the Committee that on 29 May 2014 a second planning meeting was held with his Department (.i.e. the Department of Human Settlements), the Director of Public Safety, the Sheriff and the legal advisers (engaged to advise and represent the Municipality on the eviction).
He also submitted that because the Municipality had given the court an undertaking that the eviction would be carried out in accordance with the law, later on 3 June 2014 a meeting on the safety aspects of the eviction was held at the local police station. The meeting of 3 June 2014 was attended by his Department; the Director for Public Safety; Manager for the Ambulance and Fire Departments; members of SAPS (namely members of the dog unit, horse unit, public safety and intelligence units of SAPS); the Sheriff; and 2 representatives from the security company. At the meeting, the expert security company presented the eviction plan and the plan was adopted. The eviction plan adopted involved appointing teams to handle aspects of the eviction. For instance, there was a team charged with removing hazardous substances from the houses in the Village. There was also a team responsible for removing the contents of the houses, a team for dismantling the shacks; a team for loading the contents from the houses onto trucks; and a team for offloading the contents of houses from the trucks at the selected place. And because there were permanent structures in the Village there was also a team responsible for operating the bulldozers used in the eviction.
In terms of the plan, the Municipality was also allocated responsibilities which included ensuring the belongings taken from the various houses were taken to an appropriate place for safekeeping and ensuring the dismantled shacks and their contents were numbered by Municipality officials. The plan also allocated responsibilities to other role players. Officials of the expert security were mandated to make available enough manpower on the day of the eviction and the ambulance and fire departments were required to make ambulances and fire engines available. The infrastructure department on the other hand, was required to cut electricity and water connections the day before the eviction; SAPS was mandated to ensure its public order unit was on site for control purposes; and its intelligence unit was to ensure unexpected changes to the plan were effected. The plan also involved making use of politicians to try and persuade people to leave the Village before the eviction.
According to Mr Mokoena, another meeting was held at the Municipality on 5 June 2014 which was attended by his department, the Fire and Traffic Departments, the disaster team from the District Municipality and the Environmental Affairs and Ambulance Departments. The meeting was also attended by SAPS and its legal representatives. It was resolved during this meeting that the eviction would be carried out on 11 June 2014 and the finer details of the eviction were also sketched at the meeting.
The next and last meeting, prior to the eviction, was held on 10 June 2014 and a primary purpose of the meeting was to ensure all preparations relating to the eviction were in place. Mr Mokoena further added that prior to the eviction the Municipality had also ensured that 35 serviced sites were made available seeing as it had expected a total of 100 people to be left destitute following the eviction and as such the Municipality planned to put these people up on these sites once Morena Makwane (who owned the land on which the sites were located) agreed to this and whilst it was awaiting approval of its township plan.
Further according to Mr Mokoena, on 11 June 2014, the eviction took place as planned and approximately 39 families, making up a total of 55 individuals, were left destitute and the families were taken to the fire station and given food. The Municipality subsequently held a meeting with the families at the fire station and at the meeting the families were informed they would be accommodated at the fire station until such a time the Municipality allocated the families sites. The families were also told the Municipality would build shacks for them on the allocated sites. On 12 June 2014 construction of shacks at the allocated sites began and shacks were built by the Municipality with the assistance of the expert security company and members of the Extended Public Works Programme from Bluegumbosch and Phutaditjhaba. By 11pm on 12 June 2014, a total of 8 shacks had been built. The following day construction of the shacks resumed and by 11pm that day, 13 more shacks had been built.
In closing his submissions, Mr Mokoena indicated there was an influx of people at the fire station because people were under the impression that in order to qualify for a site you had to sleep at the fire station. Further according to Mr Mokoena on 13 June 2014, the MMC informed the people at the fire station that, in applying for the eviction order, the Municipality had presented the court with a list of names of people who were likely to become destitute following the eviction. And in terms of the eviction order the Municipality was obliged to provide sites only to those people whose names appeared on the list. The MMC also informed the people at the fire station that on the basis of the order, the Municipality would only care for and feed the 39 destitute families. After the 39 families had been resettled at Bluegumbosch, the MEC for Social Development offered the people who remained at the fire station accommodation at Makwane Youth Centre (youth centre) on a temporary basis. And prior to the remaining people occupying the youth centre the Department had inspected the youth centre and the Municipal Manager arranged for the necessary repairs to be effected to the youth centre and for water and electricity to be reconnected. He added that an estimated 75 people were moved to the youth centre on 13 June 2014.
- INSPECTION IN LOCO
After the hearings on the petition on 26 and 27 May 2015, the Committee resolved that given the urgency of the situation in which the petitioners and other affected members find themselves in post the eviction, it had to carry out an inspection in loco at relevant sites within the Municipality. Accordingly on 5 August 2015, the Committee conducted the inspection in loco within the Municipality and the following Committee Members conducted the inspection in loco:
10.1 Hon S G Thobejane, ANC, Limpopo;
10.2 Hon M J Mohapi, ANC, Free State;
10.3 Hon D L Ximbi, ANC, Western Cape;
10.4 Hon Michalakis, DA, Free State;
10.5 Hon J W W Julius, DA, Gauteng; and
10.6 Hon M Chetty, DA, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
And the aforementioned Members were supported by the following officials:
10.7 Mr N Mkhize, Committee Secretary;
10.8 Dr M Gondwe, Content Advisor; and
10.9 Mr B Lwazi, Committee Assistant.
In the company of the Members and officials during the inspection in loco, were the petitioners, Morena Mopeli, Mr Mokoena and Mr Vusi Tshablala (the Executive Mayor of the Municipality). It is important to point out that the inspection in loco was also attended by Municipality officials and numerous community members.
During the inspection in loco, the Committee was led and guided to the following relevant sites by Morena Mopeli and Municipality officials:
- Bochabelo - Bokamoso Village: Site where the residents of Bochabelo - Bokamoso Village resided prior to their eviction in or around June 2014;
- Phuthaditjhaba Fire Station: Site where the evicted residents of the Village were initially housed and sheltered by the Municipality following their eviction from the Village;
- Makwana Youth centre: Site where the remaining residents of the Village where housed after some of them were relocated to Bluegumbosch; and
- Bluegumbosh: Site where the first group of former residents of the Village were relocated and allocated stands by the Municipality.
The first site the Committee visited is what used to be known as Bochabelo - Bokamoso Village. The site, which is now empty stretches of land, has according to the petitioners, been empty since their eviction and has been earmarked for use by the Municipality. The petitioners also pointed out rubble, bricks and corrugated iron from demolished houses and structures.
Secondly, the Committee visited the fire station. Municipality officials informed the Committee that the fire station was used to house and shelter up to 39 destitute families i.e. families which were determined by the Municipality to be destitute following the eviction. However according to the Municipality as the word spread that the 39 destitute families would be allocated sites and erected shacks, the number of individuals accommodated at the fire station increased considerably.
The third site the Committee visited is the youth centre. The youth centre was used by the Municipality to house and shelter the remaining families following the intervention of the MEC for Safety and Security and after the 39 destitute families were relocated to Bluegumbosch. The Committee was told the youth centre had been standing empty and unused prior to it being used to accommodate the remaining families. Municipality Officials further informed the Committee that the fire station and youth centre were intended to temporarily house and shelter the evicted residents and as such residents were subsequently told to find their own accommodation.
The last site the Committee visited is Bluegumbosch, the area in which the 39 destitute families were resettled. The Municipality officials pointed out the 35 sites were allocated to the families and shacks were also erected for them. The Committee was also able to engage with residents of the neighbouring settlement, namely, Disaster Park.
In concluding the inspection in loco, the Committee held a debriefing at the Municipality offices. At the debriefing, the Committee allowed the Executive Mayor of the Municipality to make submissions to the Committee on the petition. In making his submissions to the Committee, the Executive Mayor essentially emphasised that all the necessary legal steps were taken before the residents of the Village were evicted.
11 OBSERVATIONS AND FINDINGS
The Committee made the following observations and findings during the hearing:
11.1 Morena Mopeli had sought other remedies prior to approaching Parliament and appeared to respect the decisions handed down by the various courts in relation to the eviction.
11.2 The Municipality was unable to confirm how many people were identified as informal settlers in terms of the eviction order.
11.3 The Municipality was unable to provide precise figures in relation to how many individuals or families were evicted from the Village.
11.4 The Municipality was unable to offer a satisfactory explanation on how it arrived at the determination that only 39 families were left destitute post the eviction.
11.5 It is unclear if the resolution taken at the first meeting that the Executive Mayor make an attempt to engage the former residents of the Village prior to the eviction taking place was followed through.
11.6 The land that the residents of the Village were evicted from belongs to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
11.7 The land on which the Village was formerly situated has been earmarked by the Municipality for mixed housing and a student village.
11.8 The Municipality is struggling to locate suitable sites and is awaiting approval of its township plan.
11.9 The Municipality could have averted the eviction had relations between it and the traditional leadership been solid.
After concluding the hearing on the petition and the inspection in loco, the Committee formulated the following recommendations:
12.1 The Municipality to ensure the traditional leadership participates in council activities in keeping with legal prescripts, in particular, section 81 of the Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998. The Municipality to further work on improving relations with the traditional leadership in the area and accord the traditional leadership the necessary recognition as mandated by Chapter 12 of the Constitution.
12.2 The Municipality to accommodate the evicted families in its housing programme, in a manner that is fair and just.
12.3 The Municipality to clearly ascertain and determine how many individuals were evicted from the Village.
12.4 The Municipality to provide the Committee with a written submission on how it arrived at the determination that only 39 families would be left destitute following the eviction and would therefore qualify for sites.
12.5 The relevant Departments, such as the National Department of Water and Sanitation and the Provincial Department of Human Settlements, be engaged on some of the issues raised in the petition.
12.6 The Municipality to provide the NCOP with quarterly reports on the progress made in complying with the recommendations made in this report.
Report to be tabled for consideration.
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