'We won't give up trying to build our homes'

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'We won't give up trying to build our homes'

The police keep tearing down their shacks, but these illegal occupants say they have no choice but to rebuild

Nonkululeko Njilo

Always anxious, hoping and praying that Ekurhuleni metro police officers don’t arrive to destroy what to them is home, is a daily struggle for Phumula Mqashi’s illegal land occupants in Tembisa.
Its residents count among the many homeless in SA who, in a time when expropriation of land without compensation is widely spoken about, have taken it upon themselves to illegally occupy what they deem to be potential residential land.
They have been on this tract of land since February 2018, but some claim to have been on the housing waiting list since 1996. They have named the land Phumula Mqashi, which, loosely translated from Zulu, means resting from rent.“On the day of the occupation, the municipality arrived and said that they planned to build 7,500 government houses in the area,” said community leader Fortunate Mahlangu. 
The illegal occupation, according to the group, was a result of waiting years and years in vain to be allocated houses.  
“The government has failed us. We have no jobs and no houses,” Mahlangu said.    
Community leader and resident Sipho Kunene describes their living conditions as unbearable, since it is bitterly cold at night. No electricity, proper shelter or running water top the list of the group’s everyday struggles. However, they say they have no choice but to stay.
 “There is serious overcrowding in the shack settlements and in the township houses,” says Kunene.Documentation in Kunene’s possession and seen by Times Select shows that some residents applied for RDP houses in 1996 and have been waiting ever since. 
The land struggle for this group has also involved violence, with clashes between them, the police and Ekurhuleni metro police (EMPD), they say.
At five months pregnant, Kebibole Mnisi had to be admitted to hospital after she was pushed and fell during one of these scuffles.
Mnisi says this happened because she asked an EMPD officer why a 14-year-old boy was allegedly throttled and beaten up for taking a photograph of an officer who was breaking down one of the shacks.  
She and two other injured residents spent two days in Tembisa Hospital.
“It was really painful when I fell with my stomach and I bled a little. The nurses advised me to open a case with SAPS,” she said. She is yet to open the case.However, EMPD spokesperson Kobedi Mokheseng slammed these claims, saying: “We do our job with high diligence.” 
Mokheseng futher explained that when their officers conduct evictions, they are accompanied by members of the police and the Public Order Policing unit, who are better equipped to deal with evictees, riots and dispersing crowds.
Regarding the claims of violence, Mokheseng said “a lot of things” happened during the evictions. 
“When these people fight with us or refuse to co-operate, we retaliate – not with maximum force though,” he said. 
Using shields and shotguns with rubber bullets were some of the measures officers used to disperse crowds that failed to disperse.Despite being subjected to violence and unbearable cold, the group says all they want is to be allowed to occupy the land peacefully.
Since occupying the area, Mahlangu says, they have been evicted 12 times, but remain undeterred.  
And as many times they see the zinc, wood, cardboard and plastic used to build their homes broken down and taken away, they will rebuild, keeping alive the blueprint in their heads of a place they can call home.  
• City of Ekurhuleni spokesperson Themba Gadebe had not responded by the time of publication. Comments will be added as soon as a response is received.

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