One land invasion in the township every four days
‘Hidden hand’: There’s a Cato Manor land grab every four days
In a Durban’s cramped slum – set on the fringes of the city centre – a pitch battle for land is being waged
In a Durban’s Cato Manor – a cramped slum set on the fringes of the city centre and the suburbs that surround it – a pitch battle for land is being waged.
The burgeoning shanty settlement has become a flashpoint for violent land invasions as shack dwellers lock horns with authorities over the limping pace of housing delivery.
And while this conflict has spanned years, clashes have crescendoed as national elections loom large.
Statistics from the eThekwini Municipality’s Land Invasion Unit, obtained by Times Select, reveal that city officials had been called to thwart land invasions in the township 289 times in the space of three years.
The unit, augmented by heavily armed members of the eThekwini’s metro police, are tasked with protecting undeveloped spaces in the township.
The figures expose a startling status quo: there is, on average, a land invasion every four days in Cato Manor.
Last month hundreds of people descended on a vacant stretch of land that straddles Mary Thipe Road, an arterial route that snakes through Cato Manor, Mayville and Manor Gardens.
Using pangas, they hacked at the bush while clearing stands for shacks.
Happy Zwane told Times Select she had been clearing the bush to build her two children a home, something to leave them when she dies.
“I have two children and I’m not married, 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.
When the inevitable faceoff with authorities came, which saw the interlopers rebuffed with rubber bullets and teargas and the land spared, the township descended into chaos.
For several days it was declared a no-go zone, with angry land invaders barricading roads and stoning passing cars that moved through the settlement.
The influx of people to the area has meant that vacant land is hastily occupied and thus not available for housing development.
The number of families waiting for houses continues to grow.
An impeccable source within the municipality, who spoke to Times Select on condition of anonymity, said housing delivery had been hamstrung by bureaucracy and a morass of official processes between local and provincial government.
“The root cause is lack of housing delivery and the fact that the land was earmarked for housing 10 years ago and nothing has happened. Keep in mind this is provincial land. We are having major challenges with provincial land and apathy to develop,” the source said.
But the spokesperson for the department of human settlements and public works, Mbulelo Baloyi, rubbished claims that there was a housing backlog and an unwillingness to develop land.
“The city is doing everything necessary in ensuring that the lives of the people of Cato Manor are improved in as far as restoring human dignity in the form of provision of adequate housing. However, land invasions and excess people moving into the area have restricted certain areas for development,” he said.
There was a hidden hand, he said, behind the unrest.
“Most protests and invasions are generally more prevalent before elections, whether national or local. There are also political interests observed in these interactions.”
Abahlali baseMjondolo Shack Dwellers Movement head Sbu Zikode said their conflict in Cato Manor had been longstanding.
“This conflict and the violent evictions are a result of corruption from housing projects which only benefitted those loyal to the ANC. We know that those affiliated to the party have benefitted,” he said.
Moreover, he claimed, there had been an ethnic bias.
“If you had money for bribes you could get access to housing. Another issue is that when these allocations were made, people from the Eastern Cape were discriminated against in favour of those who are Zulu. People from the Eastern Cape were told to go back there.”
The Shack Dwellers Movement has repeatedly hauled the city to court to halt evictions.
But outside the halls of justice, in Cato Manor’s labyrinth of shacks, the land invaders often find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.
In 2013, during a protest over housing delivery, 17-year-old Nqobile Nzuza was shot in the back by policeman Phumlani Ndlovu.
A mob had attacked Ndlovu and his partner as they patrolled the settlement, the clash leaving the unarmed teen dead and Ndlovu – after a lengthy trial – sitting with a 10-year jail sentence.
The conflict, all contributing to the settlement’s tapestry of violence and bloodshed, harkens back to 1960 when six policemen were massacred by a group of thousands who had rioted over forced relocations.
The eThekwini municipality did not respond to questions at the time of publishing.