In April, at the beginning of ‘Lockdown’ in South Africa, the City of Cape Town unlawfully evicted 130 people from Empolweni, an informal settlement in Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town; and then demolished their homes. The Legal Resources Centre launched an urgent application on behalf of the residents of Empolweni. The LRC sought an interdict against the City of Cape Town from demolishing the residents homes further and to return the residents building material which was confiscated during the demolitions. Khensani Motileni was the attorney of record. The City returned the materials – but they were damaged, and only 23 of 49 homes could be rebuilt. The rest must sleep outside or in donated tents. The LRC continues to apply legal pressure.
Khensani is a Canon Collins scholar and alum, having received a Leigh Day scholarship for her 4th year LLB, and now on a scholarship for her LLM. She is also one of the winners of the 2020 COVID-19 Change Maker Award.
Her experience highlighted the tragic realities of the poorest of the poor. Dwellings in informal settlements are overcrowded and the community shares taps and toilets, making the lifesaving act of frequent handwashing unfeasible. “It concerns me deeply that people living in South Africa’s informal settlements are so vulnerable during the pandemic.” she explained. “So I joined a community based organisation, the Khayelitsha Community Action Network (CAN) to assist where I could. During the day, I worked on their case and in the evenings I would drive to Khayelitsha to prepare meals for the residents.”
The toll of this investment of her time, energy and passionate commitment was heavy, and at one stage she even faced burn out; but Khensani has not lost her determination and continues to hold the City of Cape Town accountable to its constitutional duties to the poor and vulnerable of Cape Town.
As a young black female attorney, I use law as an instrument of social justice. Winning the court case on behalf of the residents of Empolweni and winning the Change-Maker Award, have been the most important affirmations for me and have helped those whom I serve.
Watch Khensani’s Newzroom Afrika interview on the LRCs ongoing case against the City’s illegal evictions.