Piles of suitcases, mattresses and items of furniture were strewn across the narrow Commercial Street in Cape Town on Wednesday and Thursday.
Hundreds of people, most of whom are foreign nationals, were evicted from three buildings in the city centre.
The area outside 42 and 44 Commercial Street was in chaos on Wednesday as dozens of South African Police Service (SAPS) officers and immigration officials cordoned off the street where the occupiers remained with their belongings. The occupied buildings are in close proximity to Parliament.
According to Western Cape SAPS spokesperson Malcolm Pojie, more than 100 undocumented people were transported to Epping Immigration Office for verification. ‘All other persons who illegally occupied the building were informed to vacate the premises with immediate effect,’ he said.
The occupiers were reportedly served with eviction notices from March 2023. A court order which was granted on 31 August 2023, stated: ‘The first to 265 respondents are ordered to vacate property situated at 44 to 48 Commercial Street, Cape Town, Western Cape by no later than December 31, 2023.’
The August court order was granted a few days after a fire in one of the buildings that was caused due to an electrical fault.
The court also said that if the occupiers do not vacate, then the sheriff and SAPS are authorised to remove the group with their belongings.
When we arrived on Wednesday, the occupiers — some standing with bags filled with their belongings — had been told to wait outside while officials went into the buildings to remove their belongings.
One of the occupiers, Pearl Myekeni, said she received an eviction notice in March.
Myekeni said they were told that the landlord to whom they were paying rent had apparently not been paying the owner of the building. The owner then terminated the contract. ‘We ended up collecting R26,000 from the tenants, each tenant contributed about R300. I didn’t participate so I was told that I can’t sleep here.’
She said slept at her boyfriend’s house on Wednesday night. Myekeni has been living in the building since September 2022.
She said she has had her belongings packed in boxes since December in anticipation of being evicted.
Another tenant, who did not want to give her name, claimed that ‘more than a thousand’ people were living in the buildings. ‘About four months ago after finding out that the landlords were not paying the owner of these buildings, we got rid of them and we haven’t been paying rent to anyone ever since then.’
Azubuike Kanu, who said he has lived in one of the buildings for more than five years, told GroundUp that he sent his wife and children to live in the Eastern Cape in December in anticipation of the eviction.
‘We were violently taken out of the building [on Wednesday]. We were transported in a truck to Langa Home Affairs to check whether we are here illegally or not. Some were arrested. They drove me to Mowbray and I had to find my own way back here,’ said Kanu.
Kanu spent the night outside on the pavement again on Thursday because he has nowhere else to go.
Cape Town lawyer Junaid Jamat told GroundUp that he is representing 120 of the occupants. ‘We were made aware of the issue last week Friday, but the occupants had no funds for the case to be handled.’ He said by the time the residents had collected funds on Tuesday, it was too late to oppose the eviction in the High Court.
‘Unfortunately, by Wednesday morning the Sheriff and the police were already there evicting the people, so we were too late,’ he said.
GroundUp contacted the Department of Home Affairs for additional information on the arrested immigrants on Wednesday afternoon. No comment was given by the time of publication.
For further information
Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a law firm of specialist eviction lawyers in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. We help landlords and tenants maintain healthy working relationships. Contact one of our eviction attorneys on 086 099 5146 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help with tenants’ rights or landlords’ responsibilities.