Monday, November 21, 2005

Wave of land occupations in Lavender Hill

Since the start of November there have been a wave of land occupations in the area of Lavender Hill. First, on the weekend of the 4th of November about 40 families occupied land in Hillview, forming a new settlement called Chinatown. The occupation started on Friday night and by the time that the Council came to look on Monday morning most of the shacks had been completed - meaning that the Council would have to start eviction proceedings if they want the people off their land. And as the Valhalla Park case (Rudolf v. City of Cape Town) proves, the courts tend to side with those who have nowhere else to go when they take state land.

The land occupation movement intensified on Saturday the 12th as some thirty families moved onto land between St Montague Village and Rondevlei Nature Reserve. In response, Council Law Enforcement came to smash their still-incomplete shacks, supported by the City Police. A battle started when the City Police attacked a mentally ill man who was walking around and confronting the cops. As people tried to protect the man the City Police struck, firing rubber bullets and attacking with batons - a 10 year old boy, Quintin, was hit on the head with a baton, requiring 5 stitches. Three men were arrested on charges of public violence, only to be released (case dismissed) on Monday morning.

After Saturday's battle, the Law Enforcement retreated, and people carried on building. By Tuesday morning the land was filling up, with more than 400 families having erected shacks for themselves. These are families coming out of backyards in St Montague Village, Hillview, Lavender Hill and surrounding areas, where they have to pay high rents (one lady quoted R 700 a month) and face arbitrary eviction from landlords. Now they are making space for their lives on this land in St Montague Village, in a settlement that thus far has no name. "Skrik vir niks" ("Scared of nothing") suggested one activist, "Laaste uitvlug" (Last respite) suggested another. Whatever the name, it seems that new settlement is here to stay - the people on the land have clearly settled there for good!

Tomorow they will join the Day of Action for Housing which is also taking place in Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Crossroads and Hanover Park. Another front in the battle for decent housing for all has been opened!

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