From Leslie London – On the 1st of April, the OCA sent an invitation to 4 different departments and various officials requesting them to respond to concerns about the situation at the Willow Rd Circus and to attend a Town Hall meeting on the matter scheduled for the 9th April. On the 6th April, our Ward Councilor emailed to decline to attend the Town Hall meeting, saying that, because “the City and myself are deponents in the matter, we respectfully decline the invitation.” Councilor Chapple later confirmed this in communication on the 9th April, stating that the “legal process is underway and is a matter between the City’s Legal department and the Courts to determine an outcome.” No invitees, who included Councilor Kempthorne and various City officials, attended the Town Hall meeting on 9th April.
The OCA then wrote to the Executive Mayor in April asking for urgent intervention in the matter of the removal of the Circus tent which was in a state of collapse posing a safety threat. We also asked for an opportunity to meet to discuss a possible vision for the general area since it was not known what the City’s plans were for the development of the area in the long-term. This was a follow-up to the Town Hall meeting and concerns raised, particularly about the tent being a safety hazard.
The reply from the Mayor on the matter, dated 3 May, indicated that the “City has taken steps to remove the tent” but declined to share what those steps were. In response to our request for a meeting, the letter stated that “the City is currently in a court case regarding the eviction of the illegal squatters, and for this reason, the Mayor is not allowed to meet with you, until the court case is over.”
On two occasions, then, City officials claimed the matter was sub judice because a court action was underway (‘busy with an eviction process’ and ‘not allowed’ because the ‘City is currently in a court case’).
The OCA then applied under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for information related to the plans regarding the removal of the tent and future plans for the area. The PAIA application is attached and covered concerns raised at the Town Hall meeting on the circus.
As can be seen, we asked for:
- any records relating to long-term plans for the site
- plans for establishing a register of Circus residents
- any proposals made to the city for what to do with the site
- meeting minutes and/or court papers pertaining to the removal of the tent
- cost estimates for the tent removal
- any plans for action to prevent an informal settlement developing
The response from the City was received on the 31st of May, denying access to the information requested. However, in refusing the application, the City acknowledged that “all the information/records requested as they relate to the above-mentioned premises form part of a process that is not yet finalized” and that the City’s legal department confirmed that one of the legal documents was still in draft format and “the City of Cape Town has therefore not finalized any process related to the above-mentioned premises.”
It is clear, therefore, that there is a big disjuncture between what City officials have been telling the Observatory Community and what are the actual facts of the matter. As at the 31st May, there was no legal process, so there was no sub judice rule precluding discussion with the community when we approached our Ward Councillor and the Mayor. There is no legal obstacle preventing them from addressing the concerns of the Observatory community.
|What we were told||What the PAIA application elicited from the City|
|6th April: “… the City and I are deponents in the matter …” – Councillor Chapple
9th April: “legal process is underway and is a matter between the City’s Legal department and the Courts to determine an outcome…” – Councillor Chapple
3rd May: “the City is currently in a court case regarding the eviction of the illegal squatters, and for this reason, the Mayor is not allowed to meet with you, until the court case is over…” – Mayor Plato
The City’s Recreation and Parks department and legal services department advised that “…all the information/records requested as they relate to the above-mentioned premises form part of a process that is not yet finalized …”
The legal services indicated that “… one of the documents … is still in draft format. The City of Cape Town has therefore not finalized any process related to the above-mentioned premises…”
The OCA will be appealing to the PAIA decision and will keep the Obs community informed.