Zoleka Ton's three-year-old daughter Azile was inconsolable on June 28 as she watched their shack in Kliptown being torn down by police officers.
Zoleka Ton’s three-year-old daughter, Azile, was inconsolable on June 28 as she watched their shack in Kliptown being torn down by metro police officers.
Ton’s shack was among eight that were demolished after the Department of Housing’s implementation and monitoring unit accused the shack dwellers of illegally occupying council land in Freedom Charter Square informal settlement.
Letters slipped under the doors of the shacks on June 21 gave the shack dwellers seven days to vacate their dwellings.
The shacks were surrounded by 2 770 other shacks, made of similar material, corrugated iron sheets, wood and other recycled goods.
On July 8, the South Gauteng High Court ordered the city of Johannesburg and the metro police to rebuild the shacks after it ruled that the demolitions and evictions were illegal.
When the Mail & Guardian asked the Department of Housing where it expected the tenants to live after the evictions, the department replied “there must be a place from where they came”.
According to the city, the Department of Housing conducted an audit to determine who should be evicted.
The department claimed some of the evicted residents had families who had been allocated houses in a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in Pimville Zone 14 and Extension Nine, but they refused to relocate with them.
It also added that it would seek legal recourse “to deal with the other shack dwellers in due course”.
“We cannot condone such [queue jumping] at the disadvantage of people who have been waiting as beneficiaries of that certain project,” Bubu Xuba, from the Department of Housing, told the M&G
The evicted residents disagreed, saying they had been living in the informal settlement for years and many of them had been waiting for RDP houses for just as long.
Thandi Mbatha, for example, claimed she had grown up in Kliptown and had lived there since 1986.
“We came here when I was five. We were fleeing Inkatha [Freedom Party] in Meadowlands and decided to settle here,” she told the M&G.
Violation of Constitution
The court ruled that the evictions took place without a court order and was therefore a violation of the Constitution, which states that “no one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without a court order made after considering all the relevant circumstances”.
The order gave the city and the metro police 14 days to provide the evicted residents with “habitable dwellings that afford [the residents] with shelter, privacy and amenities at least equivalent to those which were destroyed”.
The court also ordered that the shacks be rebuilt on the same sites as the residents’ previous shacks.
The city only started reconstructing the shacks 15 days after the court order, saying there had been “electricity disruptions”.
One day late, on July 23, 10 men in overalls arrived in four trucks loaded with sheets of corrugated iron.
They carried the sheets — fitted with a window and a door — through the narrow spaces between the shacks before placing them on the cement foundations at the sites. Here, they hammered and welded the sheets together before lifting them into position around the foundation.
Zoliswa Mdleleni, who was one of the evicted residents, was the first to have her shack rebuilt, and said it was slightly bigger — at 2,2 square metres — than the original.
Places of privacy
Although the area around Mdleleni’s shack is surrounded by filthy water and dead rats, she is looking forward to moving back.
Marie Huchzermeyer, associate professor at Wits University’s School of Architecture and Planning, said that that as early as the 1830s, when slavery was abolished in the Western Cape, the freed slaves had built their own shacks.
Huchzermeyer said the corrugated iron structures were also homes, places of privacy and comfort to millions of people living in them in South Africa.