Cape Town – The City of Cape Town has been accused of using apartheid-style tactics to spy on land and social housing activists allegedly encouraging illegal land grabs and invasions.
Activists have accused the City of illegally monitoring their social media usernames and building cases against them.
Ndifuna Ukwazi’s Buhle Booi said: “We heard about the files and keeping surveillance on activists on the live stream of the standing portfolio committee in the legislature, and we believe they are keeping these files to profile activists whom they think are ‘instigators’ of land occupations, and we refute that.”
Booi said they would file a complaint with the information regulator.
“Precisely because we are unaware of the type of files they are keeping on activists, and in addition to that we will also lodge a Promotion of Access to Information Act application, to try and access the information that the City has on the activists from our organisations,” Booi said.
In addition, Booi said, they would “file a complaint against JP Smith and the City with the SA Human Rights Commission”.
The uproar started after mayoral committee member for safety and security Smith briefed the standing committee on human settlements on the recent spate of land invasions in the metro. He accused civil society organisations, in particular referring to Ndifuna Ukwazi and the Social Justice Coalition, of instigating land invasions, and said the City was “building files on them”.
Since July, the City has overseen the clearing of 27000 illegally occupied plots.
The City has demolished nearly 60 000 structures during anti-land invasion operations since July 11.
During the briefing Smith said: “The instigators of these actions are well known to us. We see them at every land invasion. We see their social media utterances.
“They are linked to organisations like Ndifuna Ukwazi and the Social Justice Coalition (SJC). They’re funded by international funding organisations whose South African representatives are former political figures who channel the funding.”
SJC spokesperson Nomathemba Masemula said: “The statements by JP Smith were reckless and infringe on the various constitutional rights of our staff members who tirelessly work towards entrenching and reaffirming the rights of poor black people residing in informal settlements in 2020. Such statements will not be tolerated by the SJC as they aim to silence and target human rights defenders.”
Masemula said the organisation was seeking legal advice.
ANC deputy chief whip in the legislature Muhammad Khalid Sayed said: “This is a draconian and anti-democratic tactic which reminds us of the apartheid regime. Instead of using resources to monitor activists, the City should use the same resources and energy to address the housing backlog in the City.”
Smith denied the surveillance claims, and accused the organisations of carrying out surveillance.
“They have been engaging in possible illegal surveillance; this includes obtaining confidential information and obtaining the addresses of the office bearers of the City, which are not in the public domain. There are definitely offences at play,” he said.