'He has been stripped of his dignity': SAHRC condemns Cape Town eviction

Human rights comissioner Chris Nissen in Khayelitsha on July 2 2020.
Human rights comissioner Chris Nissen in Khayelitsha on July 2 2020.
Image: Philani Nombembe

The SA Human Rights Commission is planning to take the City of Cape Town to court over evictions carried out during the lockdown.

The move follows a humiliating incident, captured on video, of a naked Bulelani Qholani being dragged out of his shack – which was also destroyed – at Empolweni informal settlement in Khayelitsha on Wednesday.

SA Human Rights commissioner Chris Nissen visited the site on Thursday. A number of  protesters gathered nearby and then marched to the Harare police station.

“We will explore litigation against the city on evictions during the lockdown because it is illegal to do any evictions during Covid-19,” said Nissen. “The court can give you an order to evict but you cannot execute it during Covid-19. Even if you have got an order, that group or that particular person has the right to respond because after 48 hours you have to go through court processes.

“There is a court process at the moment with regards to Empolweni, the court case is still on. But the regulations are clear, even if you have an order during Covid-19 you do not act.”

Nissen said the city was in contravention of the Disaster Management Act.

“I saw the video, I must tell you it’s horrific. There are no words to describe it,” said Nissen.

Some of the residents from Makhaza, Khayelitsha, who marched to Harare police station on July 2 2020 to demand that charges be laid against the law-enforcement officers who dragged Bulelani Qholani naked from his shack before demolishing it.
Some of the residents from Makhaza, Khayelitsha, who marched to Harare police station on July 2 2020 to demand that charges be laid against the law-enforcement officers who dragged Bulelani Qholani naked from his shack before demolishing it.
Image: Esa Alexander

“A person’s dignity to be destroyed like that in front of the whole world and on top of that to go and destroy the shack when the man runs inside is despicable. There are no words to condemn that. It’s just horrible. He has been literally stripped of his dignity. They destroyed him as a person. How must he look at the world?”

Nissen said there was no excuse for what happened to Qholani.

“Perhaps one can blame poor training or say those giving the orders do not understand the situation, but there is absolutely no excuse for what happened,” said Nissen. “As the commission, we have decided that we will go to court and stop the city from evicting people during Covid-19 because they have no right to do what they have done. There is a spirit of the law and the letter of the law and it appears now that they want to enforce the letter of the law during this time.”

He said the commission would fight for Qholani.

“We need to go to the equality court, the person must obviously lay a criminal charge,” he said.

“We must also lay a criminal charge against the city of violating the regulations but also those who did it must be held criminally liable and must be held responsible. The person must have recourse of the law for compensation,” said Nissen.

“Can you imagine how many similar incidents happened before that we don’t even know about? At least this has been exposed.”

Mayor Dan Plato has apologised to Qholani and said the city had suspended four officers.

“While the investigation into the conduct of the law-enforcement officers and the circumstances surrounding the situation is ongoing, as the mayor of this city, I want to acknowledge that Mr Qholani’s dignity was impaired and I am truly sorry for what he experienced,” said Plato.

“It is also important to address the misinformation that is shared so easily on social media. While evictions are not permitted under the lockdown, the courts, as well as the national minister of human settlements Lindiwe Sisulu have made it clear that municipalities across South Africa have a duty to prevent illegal land invasions.”

Protesters led by ANC councillor Xolani Sotashe laid criminal charges against Plato at the Harare police station. Sotashe said the city had contravened lockdown regulations. “The city has shown the president the middle finger,” said Sotashe.


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