TAKING A STAND ON LAND

Thursday evening and Friday morning saw over 100 Smutsville residents each claiming part of a tract of municipal-owned land, and ‘marking their claim’ with building tape. The land in question being the large tract behind and to the left of the Smutsville School, bordering on the Smutsville cemetery.

With ‘land invasions’ being a controversial current topic which regularly makes national media headlines, other Sedgefield residents became convinced that this local action could be the start of something far more sinister, and it wasn’t long before a panic was raised on social media.

However, since then assurances have been given by those on the land that this is not what it seems. The group, who are calling themselves ‘Lank Gewag’, say that this is a challenge to the municipality to fast-track the allocation of land and the building of subsidised housing, especially to those who have been on waiting lists for so long. They claim that they are second and third generation residents of Smutsville who have listened to unfulfilled promises for decades.

“Some of us have been on these lists for over twenty years, and we are still camping in the backyards of our parents’ and grandparents’ homes,” explained Vemesia Galant, a born and bred Sedgefielder who is married with three children.

She is one of the ten-strong committee representing 104 Lank Gewag’ families. Andrew Solomons, the group’s spokesperson, gave more detail.
“So many people who have lived here their whole lives have patiently waited for housing, following the law and the process, but never getting anywhere,” he told us, “Meanwhile others have arrived, taken land illegally, and built informal houses.”

104 plots were marked out in the end, starting out on Thursday night and continuing on through Friday. On Saturday morning Municipal Law Enforcement visited the site and asked the people clearing if they could at least refrain from putting up any structures, pending a meeting with the Municipality’s Manager for Integrated Human Settlements Mawethu Penxa on Wednesday 13 June. Later Councillor Levael Davis arrived with the same request, and they agreed.

However the land committee were later informed that the meeting had been canceled as Penxa would be in Cape Town. Councillor Davies suggested a meeting on Tuesday, but only with the committee, but when this suggestion was put to the entire group they all challenged the idea, saying that if Penxa was available to meet with the committee – then why could he not meet with all of them?
“I phoned Levael to give him this instruction from the community, and he told me that the Wednesday meeting had not been confirmed. He said the matter was now out of his hands, and Mawethu (Penxa) would have to sort it out,” said Solomons.

After discussing this with all the Lank Gewag members on Monday evening, the decision was made for a petition to be delivered to the Municipal Manager, insisting that by 10am Thursday morning the Municipality should provide a concise plan for the immediate allocation of land for housing. If this did not happen the Lank Gewag group would meet again to decide what action they would take.

“There are subsidised houses being built all over Greater Knysna,” said Solomons, “But who can remember when last any were built here in Sedgefield?”

Asked for comment, the Knysna Municipal Manager said:
“The municipality is aware of the recent developments in Sedgefield (Ward 1). A housing meeting to discuss the integrated human settlements strategies and plans for the Ward has been scheduled for Monday 18 June 2018.

The municipality wishes to unequivocally state that it is opposed to any land invasions. We urge the community to refrain from any unlawful activity and we appeal to them to cooperate with the municipality in this regard.

Knysna Municipality will have no option but to enforce and uphold the law and will, therefore, be compelled to remove any illegal structures on invaded land.”