Petition challenge over Happy Valley

Cape Town mayor Geordin-Hill Lewis addresses residents at the public meeting held in Leibrandt van Niekerk Hall in Table View on Thursday, January 27.

An online petition is demanding that the City and Province clear squatters from the Happy Valley site opposite the Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital in Sunningdale.

Residents near the camp started the petition, which had been signed by more than 4000 people as of Monday February 1. They say they will give the authorities until Friday February 25 to act before seeking a mandamus high court order against them.

The issue was discussed at a public meeting attended by mayor Geordin-Hill Lewis, mayoral committee member JP Smith and ward councillor Paul Swart, at the Leibrandt van Niekerk Hall, in Table View, on Thursday. About 70 residents were at the hall while about 400 more joined on Zoom.

Mr Smith said there were now 35 shacks at Happy Valley, and in 2010 only 19 people from Atlantis had settled there.

There was “very little the City can do” to evict the squatters under the current lockdown restriction, he said.

The 227-hectare site is owned by the national Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, according to a City document.

The City had applied for 595 eviction interdicts for illegally occupied sites across the City, including Happy Valley, but “this will be an extremely slow process”, said Mr Smith.

The City’s Informal settlements manager, Anton Terblanche, said his first evicting operation at Happy Valley had been in August 1999.

Between then and January 2005, the City had demolished close to 390 illegal structures there, following residents’ complaints, until he had learnt that the land belonged to Public Works, he said.

Nevertheless, the City continued to patrol the area regularly to prevent more people moving onto the site, he said.

“It’s 17 years later, and the City has been managing a problem that wasn’t even theirs without getting any assistance from Public Works,” he said.

Residents near Happy Valley said their homes were being burgled and devalued, and they feared the site would become a full-blown township.

“We cannot allow Happy Valley to become another Dunoon here. The area is filthy and poses a health risk to all,” said resident Hendry van Wyk.

Stephen Twine, from the Greater Table View Action Forum, said the area needed a shelter for those living at Happy Valley and on the streets.

Other residents asked the City to buy the land from Public Works or for the land to be sold to private developers to build affordable housing.

A town-planner, who did not want to be named, asked Mr Hill-Lewis how he could go about submitting a draft plan to the City about what “could possibly be built” on the site.

Someone from the back shouted that it wouldn’t be a good idea, but the mayor said he would take down the details of the town-planner after the meeting and speak to him about the process to follow.

People from Happy Valley were also at the meeting but did not want to comment.

Mr Swart said he shared the residents’ concerns but believed the type of resolution sought by the petition was impossible.

Resident Sonnia Spocter said she had come to the meeting, hoping to speak about changes at Happy Valley, but “we are back to square one” of passing the buck to another department.

“I now will go head to sign the petition,” she said.

Public Works spokesman Lunga Mahlanga said he would respond to all questions but did not do so by time of publication.

The City’s informal settlements manager Anton Terblanche said he has been working on the Happy Valley issue since the 1990’s