National

ANC 1: Shack dwellers 0

Manqoba Nxumalo

The latest bout of 'political evictions' at Cato Crest has added to a growing number of casualties.

Remnants of shacks at Cato Crest which were destroyed by Durban's land invasion unit. (Gallo)

A housing rights activist is fighting for his life in a Durban hospital following a protest that turned violent when the Durban police's land invasion unit recently demolished shacks in the city's Cato Crest informal settlement.

At least 18 shacks were demolished on September 21 at Cato Crest, about 7km from Durban.

Activist Nkosinathi Mngomezulu, who is currently in the intensive care unit of the city's King Edward Hospital, was shot in the stomach by the land invasion unit during the protest.

For the past few months the informal settlement has been a site of battle between two warring groups; the ANC and the social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.

The land occupation has resulted in considerable conflict, with local councillor Mzimuni Ngiba's offices and a community hall being burned down recently.

Several activists were arrested and later released.

Two housing rights activists, Nkululeko Gwala and Thembinkosi Qumelo, were assassinated and several shackdwellers were displaced.

The ongoing battle is over the delivery of houses to this small community of shack dwellers.

Since March, Cato Crest residents have occupied an unused piece of land owned by the municipality, in an operation dubbed "Marikana".

Mayor James Nxumalo blamed the occupation on migrants mainly from the Eastern Cape.

On September 1, the municipality demolished Cato Crest shacks in violation of an undertaking made to the Durban high court on August 22, that it would halt evictions pending the finalisation of the application for a final order.

The next day local residents, assisted by Abahlali baseCato Crest – a newly formed branch of Abahlali baseMjondolo – went to the Durban high court to stop the evictions.

An urgent interdict was granted and restrained the municipality from evicting the residents or demolishing their structures without a court order.

The court ordered the municipality to construct "temporary habitable dwellings that afford shelter, privacy and amenities at least equivalent to those destroyed".

The residents were represented by the Socioeconomic Rights Institute's Durban correspondent, Nichols Attorneys, and advocate David Saks.

The parties agreed to a court order that directed the legal representatives of the parties to meet at the ­settlement on September 17 to identify and mark the residents' shacks.

However, the illegal evictions at Cato Crest continued over the weekend of September 14 and 15, despite the interdict.

The General Council of the Bar has joined the fray, condemning the recent evictions as a violation of a court order.

However, the Durban municipality argued that the Cato Crest issue is more complicated because it already has a court order authorising it to demolish any new structures on illegal land and that it acted based on the strength of that order.

"In Cato Crest we agreed to go and mark the shacks that were already in place as per the court order but then we realised there are new structures that are being erected in total abuse of the court order and those are the structures that we are demolishing," the city's spokesperson, Thabo Mofokeng, said.

He added that they have a standing policy to remove all people who invade land and, based on that, they could act on any structure erected illegally within the municipality.

He also alleged that Mngomezulu stabbed one of their employees, whom he refused to name, during last weekend's stand-off and was shot in self-defence.

Academic and social commentator Richard Pithouse said the drama is "about protecting the interests of the ruling party".

"Party supporters have built shacks in the same area without consequence. These are political evictions. And politics is being openly mediated through ethnicity," Pithouse said.

"Mpondo people are being presented as having no right to this city and the Zulus among them as disloyal."

Manqoba Nxumalo is the Mail & Guardian's Eugene Saldanha Fellow for social justice reporting in 2013


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