The City of Cape Town may soon be taken to court if it ignores an attempt by concerned Lansdowne residents and business people to resolve the issue of a contentious informal settlement in the area.
The Lansdowne Industrial and Business Retailer's Association (Libra) has appointed attorneys Bowman Gilfillian to negotiate with the city about residents temporarily housed at Flamingo Crescent.
"In October 2005 the city settled homeless people on two vacant erven in Flamingo Crescent. Despite assurances from the city that they would manage the area, my client, Libra, is concerned that, since they dumped the people there, the city has done nothing about monitoring the squatter camp," says attorney Athol Gordon.
Gordon says his clients are worried that the informal settlement is mushrooming. According to statistics from the city, 55 shacks were placed there in 2005. The numbers have grown to 65 shacks housing 188 people.
"In addition, there are security and health concerns. Those people should not have been put there in the first place because the area is zoned for industrial use and it is dangerous for them to be there.
"Since they have been there my clients have noted an increase in crime. People are breaking into businesses, and when staff leave from their shifts they are attacked," says Gordon.
Lansdowne Police spokesperson Captain Allan Manuel agrees that the establishment of the informal settlement has caused crime to rise.
"There are many more cases of burglary and we have heard of many instances of unreported domestic violence," he says.
After repeated attempts to address the situation with former ward councillor Yagya Adams and other council officials, Libra took the matter to the attorneys as they felt they were being ignored, says Libra spokesperson Khalil Amod.
Gordon is currently drafting court papers, which should be finalised and delivered to council by the end of this week.
"We would like to resolve this matter without the help of the court, so we are willing to sit down with council to discuss matters. If, however, they do not meet with us or we cannot resolve the issue, we will take it to court," says Gordon.
If it goes as far as court, Gordon will file two applications - an application for the court to review and set aside the city's decision, and an application in terms of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from, and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act to remove the people from the land they occupy.
"The first application refers to the city's handling of the matter. We believe their decision to place people there was reached in a flawed manner. They broke various laws including zoning laws and the Lesser Township Establishing Act by placing the people there."
The second application refers to the future of the residents, says Gordon.
"If the court finds that the city acted in an unlawful manner and rules in favour of my client, we will ask the court to look at where and how we can accommodate these people," says Gordon.
According to Gordon, similar cases against the city have already been tried in court.
"There was the Stocks case in Philippi where land owners failed to obtain an interdict against settlers but the city was ordered to pay the legal costs incurred by the land owners. There is also the Monwood case, where a claim relating to damages arising from the settlement of squatters is still pending. This court action could drag on for years like the Monwood case, which is why we are hoping we can resolve it by negotiating with the council."
Commenting on the matter, Seth Maqetuka, the director for Human Settlement Services, says the city is aware of the problem.
"But as in many other informal settlements across the city where similar conditions and situations occur, the city has done its best to ensure that health, hygiene and safety requirements have been met.
"The city manages 240 informal settlements and will some time in the future deal with this settlement in terms of its Integrated Human Settlement Plan.
"The city will be happy to engage with Libra to find a workable solution to this problem. It must, however, be noted that fighting crime is not a Human Settlement Services responsibility and is dealt with by SAPS and the city's Metro Police," he concludes.