Shack-dwellers square up to keep ‘promised land’
Civic organisations say despite a court order, municipality officials continue demolishing homes
When families were chased away in one of several evictions from Cato Crest in Durban in November last year, they cleared space in a nearby forest to build themselves eKhanana, which refers to the Biblical “Promised Land” of Canaan.
But no sooner had the eThekwini Municipal Anti-Land Invasion Unit left than they quickly erected their shacks again in defiance of the authorities.
In December last year, shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo approached the Durban High Court for an urgent interdict against repeated attacks on the eKhanana land occupation.
The matter is still pending after municipal lawyers needed some time to prepare their answering affidavit.
But on Wednesday last week, the anti-land invasion unit struck again and demolished more than 35 homes in what Abahlali described as a “brutal attack on the eKhanana land occupation”.
The organisation also referred to the Anti-Land Invasion Unit as “thugs”.
“The attack happened despite the matter being before the court. On December 27 last year we approached the high court for an urgent interdict against the repeated attacks on the eKhanana occupation.
“The lawyers for the municipality asked the court for time to prepare their answering affidavit. The court specifically stated there should be no further evictions until the matter had been resolved.
“These evictions were therefore in violation of both the law and the specific instruction of the court,” said Abahlali spokesperson Thapelo Mohapi in a statement.
But city spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela dismissed Abahlali allegations as untrue.
“At all times our Land Invasion Unit operates within the ambit of the law. In the event where those affected feel that the law was broken, they are at liberty to approach our law enforcement agencies with evidence so that anyone acting unlawfully faces the full might of the law,” he said.
He said it was also misinformation that the city treated people living in informal settlements with disdain.
“Bearing testimony to this are over 200,000 houses that we have built since 1994 that have provided decent shelter to over two million people who were living in shacks. Currently, there are people living in transit camps waiting for the completion of their houses, and evidence is there for everyone to see.
“We are one of the first municipalities that have restored the dignity of scores of our people living in shacks by rolling out electricity, clean water and sanitation while working hard to ensure that with a shoestring budget, we fast-track the construction of RDP houses,” said Mayisela. He warned against people heeding calls by “opportunistic political formations calling for them to grab land”, saying the city would not compromise when enforcing bylaws but would always do so legally.
The shack dwellers’ movement, which has often clashed with the municipality over land occupation, has accused the city council and its anti-land invasion unit of not regarding people who live in shacks as human beings.
“They have been calling our movement the ‘third force’ since 2005. This language is used to evict us from democracy and to prepare the public for violence against us, including murder,” Mohapi fumed.
He added land occupations were not as a result of a foreign conspiracy.
“They are a result of the fact that millions of people are landless and do not have access to the cities. They are a result of the fact that in almost 25 years in power the ANC has failed to address the land question in the cities as well as in rural areas.
“One faction of the ANC claims to be the custodians of the Constitution, which says that everyone has a right to housing and that no one should be evicted without an order of the court. The other faction claims that it wants radical land reform. However, we continue to be subjected to illegal and violent attacks when we occupy land and advance land reform and realise our right to the cities from below.”
Mohapi said it had become obvious that talks of land reform in the country were just a political campaign for the upcoming elections, and accused the ruling party of not being serious about land reform.
“The ANC has never been serious about land reform, and they are not serious about it now.”
In June last year, Abahlali also approached the Durban High Court to stop the municipality from carrying out evictions after residents were allegedly evicted from a “transit camp”.
This was after the eThekwini municipal Anti-Land Invasion Unit descended on the Barcelona 2 area in Lamontville and “violently and unlawfully evicted the residents from the disgraceful ‘transit camps’ that were forcefully imposed on them seven years ago for the Fifa World Cup”.
The movement claimed residents were told they were amaMpondo and should return to the Eastern Cape.
Most of the Barcelona residents were moved there eight years ago when their homes in nearby informal settlements were bulldozed by the city.
The more than 500 families, most of them originally from the Eastern Cape, were promised RDP houses in Lamontville within six months.
But when this failed to materialise, their houses were occupied by a group of ANC and SA National Civic Organisation members who said they were Umkhonto weSizwe veterans.
After the eviction, Mohapi accused the ANC of creating “a very dangerous situation” in which impoverished people were forced to fight among themselves.
“When Xhosa-speaking people are removed from the tins at gunpoint‚ and Zulu-speaking people are then brought into the tins‚ there is a very high risk of serious conflict. Our position as Abahlali is that we are all amaMpondo and we are all amaZulu. A neighbour is a neighbour and a comrade is a comrade. We will continue to build unity in the neighbourhoods, and we will continue to oppose politicians that are trying to divide impoverished people.”
The evictions at Barcelona followed the killing of Abahlali leaders Sifiso Ngcobo and member Ndumiso Mnguni in May last year. Abahlai, whose actions have often brought them to open conflict with the ANC, claims to have 50,000 registered members.