Western Cape housing minister Richard Dyantyi has applied to rezone land occupied by the Joe Slovo informal settlement, even as the Constitutional Court prepares to hear a plea from residents to set aside their court-ordered eviction.
In March Cape Judge President John Hlophe granted a court order evicting the 15 000-strong community from the site, which is intended to form part of the government’s flagship N2 Gateway housing project.
Hlophe gave the provincial and national governments the go-ahead to force the removal of the Joe Slovo residents to Delft. They do have a constitutional right to housing, he said, but not in the locality of their choice.
In his ruling Hlophe said this was a not a normal eviction but a “strategic relocation”.
The Constitutional Court is set to hear the residents’ appeal on August 21, when it is likely the top judges will still be embroiled in their battle with Hlophe over claims that he tried to influence them to decide in favour of ANC president Jacob Zuma.
Lawyers acting for the community appear to have learned by chance of a notice in the Government Gazette advertising the rezoning application. This week they filed an urgently compiled objection with the city council.
They argued that the application could not go ahead while the case was sub judice, saying “an application of this nature cannot be considered prior to the finalisation of the appeal. The reasons for clients’ objections are also legal issues still to be decided by the Constitutional Court”, attorneys at Chennels Albertyn and the Legal Resources Centre wrote.
The notice sets out a request that the properties to be rezoned for “residential purposes and associated community and other urban facilities”.
Once designated as such, lawyers familiar with planning rules told the M&G, the government could build homes on the site, which are intended to be sold to people with low incomes who are able to afford a mortgage bond.
Ownership of the land, however, remains contested. Representatives of the community are expected to tell the Constitutional Court that they have lived there for 15 years and have a legitimate claim to the land.
Since most of the current residents of Joe Slovo have an income of between R300 and R1 200 a month, few of them will be able to afford the mortgage bonds required to buy N2 gateway houses, community members say.
Thubelisha Homes, the government’s agent on the project, has, since Hlophe’s ruling, released figures showing it is “technically insolvent” to the tune of about R70-million.
Prince Xhanti Sigcawu, spokesperson for Thubelisha Homes, declined to comment on the timing of the application.
National Minister for Housing Lindiwe Sisulu referred all questions to Dyanti, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Neither Chennels Albertyn nor the Legal Resources Centre would comment, saying the case is sub judice.
Jacques Snyman of Thubelisha’s architectural firm, JS Architects, said applying for the rezoning of Joe Slovo “will enable the project to go ahead despite what legal or political battles are going on — we have to build houses for people and court cases and political battles stall these processes. I wish we could simply build high-density structures to accommodate everybody who is currently living there,” he said.