National 11.8.2016 03:54 pm

Right of reply: LHR gives its side of the Plastic View case

Residents of the Plastic View informal settlement in Pretoria stand in the area where their shacks once stood. About 350 shacks burnt down, killing five people after a fire started in one of the shacks. Photo: Thato Mahlangu

Residents of the Plastic View informal settlement in Pretoria stand in the area where their shacks once stood. About 350 shacks burnt down, killing five people after a fire started in one of the shacks. Photo: Thato Mahlangu

Lawyers for Human Rights explain they are championing the cause of squatters in Plastic View who will be thrown on to the side of the street without legal representation.

On June 21, Citizen.co.za republished an article under the headline “Plastic View lawyers’ ‘selfish interests’ slammed” from the Rekord East that said that “the Tshwane metro will no longer entertain the ‘selfish interests’ in legal arguments against the relocation of Woodlane Village – commonly referred to as Plastic View – and will pursue the full court route to rid the area of squatters.”

It added that: “For more than 10 years, the municipality had persistently tried to solve the problem of the illegal occupation of the land, situated on a portion of the farm Garstfontein along De Villebois Marueil Drive in the upmarket east of the capital.

“But Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), acting on behalf of the squatters, has to date blocked every attempt.”

Read that full article here.

Subsequent to that article being published, however, The Citizen received LHR’s right to reply on August 2 and publish it in full below. We regret not offering the NGO the full right of reply at the time of publication in May and apologise for any prejudice that may have been caused. The Citizen endeavours to be an objective news source that offers both sides of every story, and will continue to do so for both the case of Plastic View in Pretoria and everywhere else.

The article concerned was a full reproduction of an earlier article from another website.

What follows is Lawyers’ for Human Rights’ side of the matter, in full:

Here are the facts

LHR has since 2006 acted as the legal representatives of an NGO called Tswelopele Step by Step as well as the occupiers of the informal settlement in Moreleta Park generally referred to as Plastic View or Woodlane Village.

The saga started in March 2006 when officials of the City of Tshwane (‘the City’), as well as members of the local SAPS and community police forum joined in an illegal operation in which they burnt down the shacks of the occupiers, and destroyed most of their possessions. In the subsequent legal proceedings, in which hundreds of thousands of rands of taxpayers’ money must have been wasted, the Supreme Court of Appeal ultimately found that the City officials had lied under oath and that the “operation” reminded of the brutality of the apartheid era.

Since 2009 the High Court in Pretoria has made a series of orders in respect of the informal settlement. These orders were obtained at the instance of homeowners’ associations in the vicinity, and were aimed at the relocation or regularisation of the informal settlement. At all times LHR supported the efforts by the City to find a lasting solution to the housing needs of the occupiers.

Negotiations were still ongoing when the City decided to sell the land on which the settlement is situated without even notifying us as the lawyers on record, or even our clients themselves. This was a serious breach of the good faith in which the negotiations were supposed to take place. It was also done in breach of a number of the court orders issued by the High Court on this matter. This was in complete violation of Constitutional Court jurisprudence which requires meaningful engagement with occupiers in respect of any decision that may affect them. For obvious reasons, the High Court stopped the intended sale of the land until all the legal proceedings were finalised. This order was granted in March 2015.

Despite the underhanded approach of the City, we immediately resumed trilateral negotiations with the City and the relevant homeowners’ associations. An agreement in principle was reached that would have seen all the occupiers moved to a site on the other side of Garsfontein Road where they would have been accommodated in “container” housing. The sale of the land would then have proceeded. It was made very clear in that agreement that all the occupiers would be accommodated, irrespective of their nationality or residence status. A process of building formal social housing would have commenced at the same time and this would eventually accommodate all those occupiers who qualified for social housing. At that stage, all nonqualifying residents would be relocated elsewhere.

Accommodating foreign nationals in terms of the housing code is recognised in a number of situations. We are therefore surprised by the latest statements of the City. It is also factually incorrect to describe the foreign nationals as being in the country illegally. In fact, the greater majority of them have permits to be in the country, and they can therefore not be deported. We have at all times accepted that the majority of foreign nationals will not qualify for formal housing assistance, and that they would ultimately have to be accommodated in an informal settlement elsewhere.

Just when the agreement was ready to be concluded in April 2016, a new group of homeowners’ associations objected to the relocation to the new site on the opposite side of Garsfontein Road. We will now have to test the legality of such a relocation in the courts. It was agreed that the occupiers and Tshwane would join forces in such a test court case.

In the meantime, we explored further settlement possibilities on a bilateral basis with the City purely in order to assist the City in selling the land on conditions acceptable to all affected. Again, a broad framework for a settlement was established. This would have seen all those occupiers who would not qualify for the social housing to be built in the vicinity, relocated in an orderly manner to another site either near Mamelodi or wherever the City wished to establish a temporary settlement. This is where the negotiations suddenly broke down. The City refuses to relocate any of the foreign nationals on the basis that they do not qualify for any housing assistance. The City wants them evicted on to the side of the road. This is unacceptable in our constitutional democracy, and we believe the courts will ultimately confirm our stance that foreign nationals may be accommodated in the establishment of an orderly informal settlement.

Again, for obvious reasons, those occupiers who won’t qualify for the social housing to be built, cannot accept a settlement that will see them thrown out on to the side of the street.

We regret that we have to involve ourselves in this episode of gutter journalism, but the public is entitled to the truth. We are also forced to place on record matters which are usually regarded as enjoying legal privilege. We do so with the consent of our clients.

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