Residents at a housing protest in Somerset West near Cape Town, April 11 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
Residents at a housing protest in Somerset West near Cape Town, April 11 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

Violent protests related to land are increasing in Cape Town ahead of the elections in May.

The metro disclosed on Thursday that it had recorded 21 incidents of protest action in the first few days of April. This follows 76 recorded incidents in March, which is an increase from 24 in February.

This week, protest action in Blackheath and Strand caused severe disruptions and volatility in some areas of the city, putting the lives of members of the public at risk and negatively affecting the city’s ability to deliver services.

In Khayelitsha, a number of main roads have been closed to traffic as a result of protest action, the city said.

“Many of the protests are related to attempted land invasions and the actions of city law enforcement agencies, supported by the South African Police Service, to ensure that the ongoing attempts to invade city-owned land are not successful,” said Malusi Booi, the city’s mayoral committee member for human settlements.

The SA Police Service (SAPS) recently told MPs that the debate on expropriation of land without compensation had led to an increase in incidents of illegal occupation of property, and warned that this could worsen in the lead up to the May 8 elections.

According to figures published by the City of Cape Town in 2018, the metro saw a 53% increase in land invasions. Protests relating to the land in Cape Town increased 249% in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Amid the debate on the issue in 2018, EFF leader Julius Malema called on people to occupy any vacant land they find. In December, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces adopted a contentious report that called for a constitutional amendment to make it explicit that expropriation without compensation be used as a means to address historically skewed land ownership patterns. 

In March, parliament’s ad hoc committee tasked with amending section 25 of the constitution confirmed that the proposed legislative changes would be finalised after the elections. This means the amendment might not be passed if the ANC and EFF fail to secure a two-thirds majority between them.

The expropriation debate has polarised the country and spooked investors, with the proposed amendment set to be challenged in court by various stakeholders and political parties.

Booi said that between January and the end of June 2018 about 67,000 illegally erected, vacant structures and pegs to mark off land, were removed in the metro.

“These operations tie up an enormous amount of city law enforcement resources. But it is vital to protect land from illegal occupation,” Booi said.

“Illegal occupation leads to fire, health and flooding risks and places an enormous train on our resources as a city. Priority is thus given to service provision for existing settlements. It is important for all of our communities in Cape Town to realise that land invasions affect us all.”

Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said: “The city respects the right to protest, but it is the nature of the protests that is putting our residents’ lives at risk. The violence, destruction of infrastructure, risk to public safety and the closure of major routes which in turn impacts the economy, cannot be condoned.”