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Shack dwellers’ movement to contest forced evictions

The eThekwini municipality destroyed more than 100 shacks in Cato Crest’s Marikana Land Occupation and Lamontville’s Madlala Village over the weekend, leaving about 300 people homeless, according to shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo

Residents have begun the familiar process of rebuilding their homes after the demolitions, which took place in spite of a June 6 Constitutional Court order to the contrary.

The municipality’s Land Invasion Control Unit began the evictions on June 21, demolishing 18 shacks in Cato Crest. The unit arrived armed and without court orders on the morning of Sunday June 22, according to Abahlali president S’bu Zikode.

“Of course they did not want to engage or communicate with any of the residents, even when asked if they had any court orders or documents authorising them to tear the shacks down,” Zikode said. “But the residents know their rights.”

People began taking pictures and video clips as evidence of the attack, but Zikode said members of the unit confiscated some of their phones and held residents at gunpoint.

“They were very brutal. Even when there were women and children in the house, they would continue to tear the houses down, disregarding the people’s belongings,” he said.

Promise of a press release
After numerous attempts to contact the municipality spokesperson, GroundUp was unable to obtain more than the promise of a forthcoming press release.

Nadbo Mzimela, general secretary of Abahlali and a resident of Cato Crest, said one resident was in hospital after being wounded by a rubber bullet.

The demolition teams were brutal and heavily armed, using tear gas to disperse the crowds, according to Zikode. He referred to the demolition agents as “Blue Ants”, employees of the municipality come to tear the shacks down. He said members of the South African Police Service were also present.

“They had no reason,” Mzimela said, saying that the incident was a violation of the Constitution and residents’ human rights.

“They could not provide us a court order, so it was clear the evictions were unlawful and done in breach of the Constitution,” Zikode said.

Rebuilding process
Residents blockaded roads soon after the evictions and began what Zikode refers to as a “normal” rebuilding process. He said similar evictions had taken place in Cato Crest 12 times. “It has happened already. People rebuild their shacks because they have nowhere else to go,” Mzimela said.

Evictees have been sleeping at the houses of friends and neighbours while rebuilding their homes.

Demolition squads tore down shacks in the informal Cato Crest settlement despite a court order to the contrary. (Abahlali baseMjondolo)

Mzamo Majozini, chair of Abahlali’s Cato Crest branch, said the authorities should talk to residents and that the municipality should pay for the damage it has caused. Abahlali has been collecting information from residents about the belongings that were destroyed. He said they would “continue to block the roads, to fight,” until the evictions are stopped and a settlement is reached.

Evicted members of the community took to the streets on Monday in protest. No arrests were made, Mzimela said.

Zikode expects more evictions soon.

‘Instructions to demolish’
About 50 shacks were demolished in Madlala Village in Lamontville, Durban. An Abahlali press release said one of the demolition team members had said the team was aware of a recent court ruling in favour of Madlala Village residents, “but that they were working according to the ward councillor’s instructions to demolish these homes”.

Such evictions are illegal without a court order, but not without precedent. Kennedy Road residents celebrated a Constitutional Court victory in 2009, but that too was followed by similar attacks.

“We celebrate victories in court with caution as we know what comes next,” said Abahlali.

The June 6 Constitutional Court case of Zulu and 389 Others vs eThekwini Municipality and Others concerned the interpretation of a March 28 2013 order that the high court in Durban issued to the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for human settlements and public works. This order allowed the municipality to “prevent any persons from invading and/or occupying and/or undertaking the construction of any structures” on land within its jurisdiction, and to remove materials placed on those lands, according to the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri). The order was used to justify the violent Cato Crest evictions in 2013.

In June, the Constitutional Court declared that using the order for evictions was unacceptable, although the municipality denied that it had done so. Justice Johann van der Westhuizen found that the order violated the Constitution and was invalid. But the majority judgment did not pronounce on the order’s legality and the case awaits further proceedings in the high court.

‘Victimising people’
Mzimela said the municipality decided to take matters into its own hands. “They victimise people instead of preventing them from being victimised,” he said.

Zikode said it was surprising that the municipality had not waited for the high court judgment, and that the Constitutional Court decision had been undermined.

“We want to hold them in contempt of the court, and to make sure they abide by the Constitution.”

Abahlali will take legal action in response to these evictions, said Mzimela. “We will first try to engage with the municipal legal team and see if there are any negotiations that we can have,” he said. “I can promise one thing, that we will take further steps.”

Seri, which represented Abahlali in the June 6 court case, would continue to provide legal support, he said.

The municipality should find a long-term alternative for the residents it has evicted repeatedly, said Zikode. Until then “we will challenge any evictions that continue to take place”.

Persistent housing crisis
He spoke of the persistent housing crisis these shack dwellers have faced. People were being excluded from government housing developments because of party affiliations and other factors, he said, with some being told to return to the Eastern Cape or find their own way in KwaZulu-Natal.

Abahlali said “this is a war on the organised poor who are standing up for their rights”. And the war has been a bitter one. The Zulu judgment cites appellants’ claims that their homes had been illegally demolished 24 times by the Municipality Land Invasion Control Unit since September 2012.

Zikode said Abahlali’s endorsement of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the elections could be a reason why the most recent evictions attracted more attention than past evictions. The DA’s political clout could be helpful, he said.

He said the timing of the municipality’s actions in Cato Crest and Madlala Village was significant. “Just a few weeks after the Constitutional Court ruling, they want to show people they are in charge, in spite of what the law says. Nobody can stop them from doing anything.”

Abahlali is creating a branch in Madlala Village and launched a new branch on Sunday June 22 in the Dermet community of Shallcross, a Durban suburb, where residents faced a series of evictions and subsequent court action in 2012. –

GroundUp is a community journalism project that reports on stories from South Africa’s townships.

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