Inside the Lwandle hearings

A ministerial inquiry into the evictions at Nomzamo, near Lwandle in the Strand, has turned into an elaborate blame game. RA’EESA PATHER reports.

Lwandle hearing

The Cape Town CBD is a long way away from Lwandle, but this is where the public hearings take place.

It was 10am in the Good Hope Sub-Council building and a few reporters were seated near the back. The chambers were comfortable, with big cushioned chairs, carpeted floors and wooden furnishings. The chambers were surprisingly homey, an ironic contrast to the subject of the Lwandle evictions, where hundreds had been left homeless. The faces of Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, President Jacob Zuma, and City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille smiled down from framed perches on the wall.

It was the second week of the Lwandle hearings, led by the ministerial inquiry appointed by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

A month ago, residents of the Nomzamo settlement near Lwandle were violently evicted from their homes on land owned by the South African National Roads Agency. On Tuesday, the ANC ward councillor and civil society organisation Ses’khona People’s Rights Movement appeared before the inquiry.

“The last time I experience this was during apartheid years,” said Mbuyiselo Matha, the ANC ward councilor of the area.

Matha read his submission, recounting the violent brutality he witnessed.

As he spoke a sharp narrative begin to emerge. It was a blame game, where Matha accused the City of failing to deliver its promises, and as a result people took action, illegally occupying private property.

“They said they were tired of unfulfilled promised by the City that land, services and houses will be provided to them since 2007,” Matha said.

Watching it all unfold was almost comical. The finger-pointing brought to mind children being confronted by a particularly intimidating school principal. But the reality cut through the theatrics: people had been displaced from their homes, and their suffering was being politicised.

A 30-minute adjournment was called after Matha’s presentation. The smell of fresh-cooked chicken wafted into the room, as people took advantage of the free food. Among journalists, bickering broke out over plug points and chargers, while the Ses’khona crew began to prepare for their submission.

Matha’s submission had been a quiet affair on the whole. In contrast, Ses’Khona had rocky start.

Access to Justice, a legal aid organisation, worked in conjunction with Ses’Khona on behalf of its members in Lwandle and legal advisor Sheena Jonker began the submission by listing a number of Lwandle evictees who suffered brutality at the hands of police.

It was a gory and grim narrative. Patience Ndleva, almost nine months pregnant, was kicked in her hip. Xoliswa Masabala was stripped and assaulted before she was arrested. Bongani Magaqama was brutalised and said he heard police refer to Africans as a “kak people”.

But Jonker came under fire on the inquiry began its questioning.

“Do you have affidavits to back this presentation?,” asked inquiry member, Butch Steyn.

There were no affidavits, and Jonker could not determine whether police or law enforcement were responsible for her clients’ injuries. It was a cringe-worthy session, where Steyn questioned Jonker’s credibility and she answered back in a shaky, uneven voice.

Loyiso Nkohla, a Ses’Khona leader, was up next and the hearing took a dramatic turn late in the day. One would expect nothing less from Ses’Khona, who are known to be a provocative group.

During his questioning, Nkohla repeatedly referred to Helen Zille as “that racist girl”.

“Chairperson, are you really going to allow this?,” interjected DA provincial communications director Jamie Turkington.

After a verbal confrontation between him and a Ses’Khona member, chair advocate Denzil Potgieter ordered Turkington to leave.

Nkohla’s submission was an assault on Helen Zille and the inadequacy of the City of Cape Town. He accused provincial leaders of mistreating black people, and called Zille a “white German foreigner in our country”.

With a “thank you” and a rise from his chair, his day in chambers concluded.

It was the end of a long day of nit-picking from members of the inquiry searching for answers. Still, the blame game is being fought. Meanwhile, out in Strand, Nomzamo’s people wait for news from the City, absent and voiceless in the investigation centered on their plight.