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Evicted shack dwellers seek legal recourse

Karabo Keepile

Evicted shack dwellers from Gauteng and Ekurhuleni -- accused of illegally occupying council land -- are now seeking legal recourse.

Evicted shack dwellers from Gauteng and Ekurhuleni—accused of illegally occupying council land—are now seeking legal recourse after their shacks were demolished recently. Their legal reprentatives believe they stand a good chance of winning the case because an eviction without a court order is unlawful.

Shack evictions across the country
In the lead up to and during the Soccer World Cup, South Africa experienced a string of shack demolitions.

While Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium was being completed, thousands living in informal settlements around the area were threatened with eviction.

Residents living at an informal settlement on Durban’s Kennedy Road claimed an armed gang of about 40 men attacked residents, killing at least two people and destroying 30 shacks.

Residents, now living in Blikkiesdorp in the Western Cape —a temporary relocation area—said they were forcibly evicted from their former homes before being transported to the area.

They blamed the Soccer World Cup for the evictions.

On June 28 2010, Johannesburg shack dwellers living in Sandown claimed that 55 shacks were burnt by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD).

The JMPD said it had the authority to demolish the shacks but denied setting them alight.

Evictions in Kliptown
Eight shack dwellers from Kliptown’s Freedom Charter Square informal settlement in Soweto have sought legal representation from the Socioeconomic Rights Institute (Seri) of South Africa, after their shacks were demolished by Johannesburg metro police officers on June 28.

The institute, which is a new NGO set up to provide legal assistance with housing, basic services, and migrant rights, said the shack dwellers had their affidavits taken on Tuesday before an urgent application was filed in the South Gauteng High Court on Wednesday. The shack dwellers want the city of Johannesburg and the metro police to restore their possession of their land and reconstruct their homes.

The eight shack owners said they had received notices from the Department of Housing’s implementation and monitoring unit, stating they had illegally occupied council land. The notices, dated June 21, were pushed under the doors of many of the shacks and gave residents seven days to vacate their premises.

The unit is responsible for ensuring that plans drawn up by the city’s housing department are implemented, such as the upgrading of informal settlements and the redevelopment of hostels.

Zoleka Ton was one of the eight Kliptown shack dwellers the M&G spoke to this week.

The Freedom Charter Square informal settlement is dusty and overpopulated. Used condoms and dead rats litter the ground between the streams of raw sewage. Longtime residents claim the informal settlement has been around since the signing of the Freedom Charter in 1955.

Ton arrived in Kliptown in 2001 from the Eastern Cape, looking for work.

“I came to live with my mom but after I had a child I decided to move.”

Ton and the father of her child built a shack in the informal settlement they call home.

She said she had refused to accept the eviction notice from an official because it did not have an official stamp but a Soccer World Cup logo instead.

“I asked them where they expected me to go but they said it wasn’t their problem.”

Ton and her child have now squeezed into her mother’s tiny shack nearby.

Zoliswa Mdleleni, also from Eastern Cape, is Ton’s neighbour.

‘I am scared to build again’
Mdleleni and her boyfriend built their two room shack when they had nowhere to live.

Mdleleni, pointing to a dusty patch which used to be their dining area and bedroom, told of how she had been planning on buying more furniture for the room.

She was was on her way to the informal settlement’s spaza shop when residents warned her to lock her shack and leave.

“I ran back so I could collect my stuff,” she said, only to find armed metro police and over a dozen men demolishing the dwelling.

Mdleleni is currently unemployed and now lives with a woman she has come to know in the area.

“I don’t know what to do and I am scared to build again because they may bring it down again,” she said.

Ekurhuleni shack dwellers evicted
Evicted shack dwellers from Gabon informal settlement in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, gathered outside Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg on Thursday to consult with a legal team about the evictions.

General Moyo from the Informal Settlement Network in Ekurhuleni said they were signing confirmatory affidavits.

On May 15, the Informal Settlement Network’s Gauteng provincial leadership met with residents of the Gabon informal settlement in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, after they were served a “24-hour notice for eviction for having illegal structures”, said Benjamin Bradlow, a research and documentation officer from Shack/Slum Dwellers International.

According to Bradlow, on May 11, “Red Ants [security guards known for the colour of their overalls] and other unknown people destroyed about 350 shacks and stole many residents’ belongings”.

Also gathered at Constitutional Hill this week were evicted shack dwellers from Chris Hani Informal settlement.

Chris Hani community leader Mdumiso Langeni said 20 shacks had been demolished by the police on May 17.

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