/ 11 September 2013

Durban officials face imprisonment for Cato Crest evictions

Hlengiwe Msweli stands in front of her house on January 28 2013 in Durban
Hlengiwe Msweli stands in front of her house on January 28 2013 in Durban, South Africa. (Gallo)

The eThekwini municipal manager Sibusiso Sithole and the head of the Land Invasions Unit have been ordered to appear before the Durban High Court on Thursday to explain why they should not be imprisoned for contempt of court for continuing with Cato Crest shack demolitions despite a court order prohibiting the destruction of shacks.

On Friday September 6 2013, Abahlali baseMjondolo and residents of Cato Crest informal settlement approached the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban for the third time to prevent the eThekwini municipality from illegally destroying their homes.

The judge granted an interim order compelling Sithole and the head of the Land Invasion Unit to appear in court on Thursday, September 12, to explain why they should not be imprisoned for 30 days.

Sbu Zikode, from the Abahlali baseMjondolo's shack dweller's movement, said they were shocked that the municipality could flagrantly disregard a court order and that they looked forward to Thursday's hearing.

"We obtained yet another order because the municipality continues to go against the law and now they face arrest," Zikode said on Tuesday.

The order further directed the municipality to construct "temporary habitable dwellings that afford shelter, privacy and amenities at least equivalent to those destroyed, and which are capable of being dismantled, at the site at which their previous informal housing structures were demolished" to the residents whose shacks were demolished on September 1 and 2.

This has not been done.

"When the state wilfully disobeys a court order, it makes a criminal of itself. It subverts the rule of law. It tears the fabric of our constitutional democracy," said Stuart Wilson, executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri).

"It is unacceptable that poor residents of an informal settlement must go to court three times in order to stop the illegal demolition of their homes … It is equally disturbing that the only way to hold a municipality accountable to enforce court orders is to bring individual office-bearers to court on pain of imprisonment for contempt." 

Appointed local government enforcers often face threats and violence when they attempt to disband informal communities taking advantage of loopholes in land use management legislation.

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