08/02/2017 07:22 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 07:33 GMT

Here's Why The People Of Marikana Informal Settlement Are Suing Cape Town For Land

In spite of the support of the people, and the current landowners, the City of Cape Town refuses to expropriate the Marikana land for the people. Why?

Nicky Milne / Thomson Reuters Foundation / Reuters
Shacks are seen at an informal settlement near Cape Town, South Africa, September 14, 2016.

This week politicians, government officials and dignitaries have been flocking to Cape Town. With all of the excess and fanfare imaginable, on Thursday, they will listen to President Zuma deliver the State of the Nation address at Parliament in the city centre. As representatives of South African people, they will stay in expensive hotels with luxuries constantly at their finger-tips before traveling the short distance to Parliament. There they will walk the red carpet that is rolled out specifically for the occasion.

More conspicuously, and without the knowledge of the majority of Capetonians, representatives of another group of people – the residents of the Marikana informal settlement – will also travel into the centre of Cape Town between today and Friday. They will attend hearings at the Western Cape High Court that will determine the future security of their homes and livelihoods.

These representatives of the 60,000 residents of Marikana informal settlement will receive no official welcome as they mount steps at the entrance to the High Court, which stands a stones-throw away from Parliament. The President will not address them or their concerns. They will likely travel for over an hour on public transport from the Cape Flats – as many residents do each day for work – to get to court. When they return home at the end of a day in court it will not be to room service but rather to the cold of their self-made shacks without running water, electricity, basic sanitation or waste removal services.

The residents of Marikana began to move onto the land upon which they now live as early 2012. An investigation conducted by the City of Cape Town shows that they came from just under 30 different sites all either as a result of homelessness, other evictions or inability to pay the rent asked for as "backyarders" in other informal settlements.

The City of Cape Town has an existing housing backlog of 350,000 households – many more people – which is increasing at a rate of 18,000 households per year.

Since 2014, when one of the three owners of the properties upon which they are living approached the High Court to grant an eviction order, their evictions from the only homes that they have has been sought. The City of Cape Town has an existing housing backlog of 350,000 households – many more people – which is increasing at a rate of 18,000 households per year.

Recognising that the prospects of being safely and humanely resettled by the city in a manner which respects their dignity are slim, the Marikana residents have been making the best of their circumstances and building communities, growing informal economies and organising several committee structures to set out rules to ensure safety and stability.

With the help of human rights lawyers, they are resisting the eviction sought against them in the High Court. They are arguing that it is impossible for such a large number of people – more than twice the capacity of Newlands cricket stadium or the size of Knysna – to be evicted and relocated in a manner which respects their rights and does not disrupt their communities or destroy their homes.

Instead of relocating them to temporary accommodations, which SERI's work shows are often inadequate, and as Ndifuna Ukwazi has powerfully demonstrated, are often desolate and in the middle of nowhere, they are offering the City a viable alternative: the residents are asking the court to order the City to consider the expropriation of the land upon which they are living. The property owners themselves have come round to this idea and will support it in court.

This solution appears to be exactly the type of balancing of owners' property rights and poor people's rights to access to adequate housing that the Constitutional Court has said the Constitution demands. The owners will get compensation for the land that they will lose and residents will no longer have to live in fear of eviction.

Being the new owners of the land, the city would have no legal obstructions in providing basic services to residents, which they are constitutionally obliged to do. As the residents point out two national housing policies – the Emergency Housing Programme and the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme – allow for the provision and upgrading of housing to be provided to occupiers on the occupied land itself.

Despite these significant advantages to expropriation the city does not seem to have taken the residents suggestion to even consider expropriation very seriously.

Despite these significant advantages to expropriation the city does not seem to even have considered the suggestion by the residents, that expropriation be taken seriously. Instead it says that it has made an application the MEC for Human for Human Settlements in the Western Cape for funding to implement the Emergency Housing Programme. The only evidence of this application is a letter which does not comply with the basic legal requirements for such an application.

As the rest of the country waits expectantly on the President hoping for direction and leadership, so the residents of Marikana still await such leadership and direction from the City of Cape Town. In the absence of adequate planning and implementation of policies intended to fulfil their rights to housing, water, sanitation and other basic municipal services, it is little wonder that instead of listening to the President's speech in Parliament on Thursday, they will be listening intently to argument in the High Court just down road.

Until the government acts and acts decisively to fulfil its constitutional obligations, the distances between people in the position of the residents of Marikana and local, provincial and national government will remain as great as differences between the luxury hotels of politicians and abject poverty of informal settlements.