This land ain’t up for grabs, Ethekwini tells invaders
Durban says it's spent millions to deal with invasion complaints when the money could’ve been spent on service delivery
Happy Zwane braved the scorching heat in Durban on Monday and joined hundreds of other residents from the Cato Crest informal settlement, who illegally invaded vacant state land and allocated themselves plots.
Like the rest of the residents who are fed up with the slow pace of housing delivery in the country, the middle-aged mother of two children had already demarcated her piece of land with red and white tape and was busy clearing the bushes.
Zwane told Times Select she had voted for the ANC for the past 25 years but had not benefited from the ruling party, as she did not have a house for herself and her two children.
“I’m not married and I have two children from different fathers, and I want to clear a plot for them so that when I die they would have a place to live. I don’t have a place of my own because I don’t own the place I live in. So I want to leave my children with a home,” she said.
Next to her, other residents were also busy clearing the bushes and demarcating their plots. Some of those invading arrived in luxury cars, including a BMW, which were parked nearby.
The residents descended on land alongside Mary Thipe Road, which borders Mayville and Manor Gardens, like a swarm of bees, and started clearing the bushes on Monday and continued on Tuesday.
Some residents, who were not willing to be identified, complained they were tired of renting and wanted to have places.
The Cato Crest informal settlement has been at the epicentre of illegal land grabs over the years, which have often resulted in skirmishes between shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo and eThekwini Municipality.
On Wednesday last week, the Durban High Court granted Abahlali an interdict against the municipality’s eviction of residents who had occupied land in eKhanana in Cato Crest.
This followed an urgent application by the shack dwellers’ movement in December last year to seek an order against what they called “ongoing and illegal evictions” by the municipality’s anti-land invasion unit.
The city is now interdicted from evicting 109 families in the eKhenana land occupation.
But Abahlali have distanced themselves from the latest land invasion, saying they had nothing to do with it. One of the Abahlali leaders, Lindokuhle Mnguni, said: “We as Abahlali are not part of this land invasion. [Those involved in the eKhanana land occupation] are just doing that on their own. We are not part of this. The majority of them already have houses, and they are members of the ANC, and some of them were wearing ANC T-shirts."
Local community leader Thulani Ndlovu said as much as he did not encourage illegal land grabs, he could not blame the land invaders because they had been waiting for houses for a long time. “I can’t blame them. These people have been waiting for their constitutional right to have decent housing, but it is painful that this promise has not been fulfilled. I’m waiting for the government to fulfill the promises that were made so that people can vote for it and keep in it power.
“I can’t stand in the way of these people because I’m serving the community. We can’t afford things that are not done accordingly and then we’re expected to campaign for something that will not be delivered,” he said.
On Tuesday eThekwini municipality mayor Zandile Gumede raised the matter of land invasions at the executive committee meeting. She said there were rumours that the land invasions were politically motivated and that there were allegations that councillors were encouraging the land grabs.
“I urge all councillors to assist residents regarding land invasion. This issue of land invasion is escalating. There are also allegations that there are some councillors encouraging people to claim land. We are taking these allegations seriously and will deal with those councillors who are found to have encouraged land invasion,” she said.
In 2018, the Land Invasion Unit responded to 95 complaints in October, 97 in November 2018 and 43 in December.
“To date, the city allocates millions every financial year for this unit to discharge its duties religiously. Had it not been for these worrying incidents, this revenue would have been used to carry out other service delivery programmes,” said deputy mayor Fawzia Peer.
Gumede said she was raising the issue at the executive committee meeting, as it was escalating.
She urged land invaders to follow proper processes to get housing while also urging private landowners to engage with the department of human settlements to develop their vacant land or fence it off.
On claims by residents that the municipality had failed to deliver houses, city spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said: “More than 1,000 houses have been built in Cato Crest, but the influx of people to the area has meant that land is not available for housing development, and the number of families waiting for houses continues to grow.”
Mayisela said the portion of land that had been invaded by the residents on Mary Thipe Road could not be developed for housing purposes because unstable soil made it unsafe.
“Land is a scarce resource and the municipality has an obligation to protect and preserve land with the purpose of utilising it to unlock future development opportunities for the growth and sustainability of our city.
“The municipality is looking at robust measures to address land invasion, including engaging with various interest groups, the South African Police Service and the criminal justice system in general, academics, civil society and other stakeholders,” he said.
Mayisela said eradicating informal settlements required a joint effort from stakeholders and members of the public were encouraged to report people who broke the law to enforcement authorities.
GroundUp, which has done a series of articles on Abahlali over the years, reported in September last year that in Durban alone there were more than 317,000 households living in informal settlements, while the municipality’s housing backlog was estimated at more than 400,000.
According to a 2016 report by the People’s Environment Planning, a nonprofit organisation that supports communities living in informal settlements, it was estimated there were 12 million people without proper housing in SA.