Squatters defy court order

The-Weekly-Vusi-TshabalalaCouncil could forcibly evict the 80 families

The future of about 80 families who are illegally settled at Uitkoms Farm in Bluegumbosch, Qwaqwa remains uncertain after they failed to abide by an order issued by the Free State High Court for them to give reasons why they should not be removed from a piece of land owned by the Maluti a Phofung (MAP) Local Municipality.

Earlier this month, the provincial high court gave the squatters until Thursday last week (May 14) to give reasons why an interim order obtained by council authorising their removal from the piece of land should not be made permanent.

The municipality had approached the court after the squatters ignored repeated pleas to vacate the land that local authority says is earmarked for other development.

But some of the illegal settlers this week told The Weekly that they had not contested the order because they did not have the money to hire a lawyer to represent them.

They also said that they were not prepared to leave the farm because they had nowhere else to go.

“We are very poor and we have nowhere else to go,” said 49-year old Sam Dlamini, one of the people that the council says must leave the farm.

Dlamni said he and his fellow squatters had each received a copy of the court order but there was nothing they were going to do about it because, “we cannot afford lawyers.”

Mojalefa Motloung, 32, said the squatters were not violent or lawless people but had been forced to occupy municipal land because they had no other option.

MAP executive mayor Vusi Tshabalala said the municipality was aware that people needed land to build homes and was working hard to make such land available but it could not allow a situation where people simply occupied land willy-nilly.

He said the council was not seeking confrontation and had previously tried to talk to the squatters to stop erecting shacks on the farm and that they should leave.

According to Tshabalala, municipal representatives had held public meetings and visited the squatters to explain to them that it was illegal to occupy council land without permission.

“People continued to erect more shacks and we had no option but to seek the intervention of the high court,” said the mayor.

Tshabalala said there were two groups of people staying at Uitkoms Farm. The first group comprised people legally staying at the farm after they were relocated there by the municipality when they were evicted last year from an informal settlement in Bokamoso, also in Qwaqwa.

But soon after the former Bokamoso settlers moved in, more people started arriving at the farm and marked out pieces of land for themselves to build homes without council permission.

The mayor said the council has a full list of people who should be staying at the farm which means they know exactly who to evict from the farm.

Human settlements MEC Olly Mlamleli warned the illegal settlers against defying the court order and urged them to leave peacefully. “Nobody is above the law,” said Mlamleli.

“If the municipality has approached the court and they do not listen, they will suffer the consequences when the court deals with them. It is no longer in our hands now. I am surprised to learn that these people ignored me when I requested them not to erect their shacks here.

“We understand that most of them have been occupying houses that they do not own. I even explained to them that land has already been identified and stands will be allocated to them. But before that happens, the land must be developed so that there are toilets, water and electricity,” she explained.