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This land was veld, now it’s ours, declare Hammanskraal residents

‘This land is for mahala. The government was supposed to build RDP houses but they took too long. Now it’s too late. This is our land,” exclaims one of the young men rebuilding his shack, after it was demolished by the city of Tshwane. 

His sentiments are shared by many of the now destitute residents of Greenfield, an informal settlement in Sekampaneng, Hammanskraal, which was hit by forced evictions this week.  The land belongs to the Kekana Tribal Authority.

Greenfield’s size has exploded since January this year, from only a few dozen shacks built near the municipal houses to about 16 000 structures by the end of May, according to the City of Tshwane’s spokesperson, Blessing Manale. 

This rapid expansion is characteristic of cities in Gauteng, where the population swelled from 12.3-million people in 2011 to nearly 13-million by the end of 2014. As the protests over the demolition of homes continue in front of the Hammanskraal municipal offices, residents in Greenfield appear unfazed by who the land owners are, and focus on building their lives in the new settlement.

For Ouma Ngobeni (36), her shack and spacious yard represent a future for her three children, to whom she hopes to leave the land when she dies. Ngobeni moved to Greenfield in January, from the three-bedroom family home in the neighbouring Sekampaneng township, where she had lived with 11 people, including her brothers, sister and parents, since 1991.

“I want my own place, to raise my children with privacy. This is not a temporary occupation I want to live here forever and give this place to my children,” says Ngobeni, who is visibly upset by the damaged building material left by the private company hired to evict her and others.

“There was no warning given to us. They came here with their machines and tore down my place. I lost my ID, birth certificates and my furniture is damaged. Even my zinc [corrugated iron] sheets are missing and we are only left with our clothes. How will we survive?” she says. The other settlements affected by the eviction in the City of Tshwane’s ward 49 are Sekampaneng, Suurman and Kanana Park. 

The 2011 census data estimates the ward’s population size at 35 425 people living on 211 square kilometres, which is about 170 people on each square kilometre. The data also revealed that more than half the people living in the ward are unemployed, and more than 90% of the population migrated from other areas and provinces.

This situation led to overcrowding in homes and an increase in the number of backyard homes in the established township of Sekampaneng. Many of the residents standing their ground on the illegally occupied land said they had moved out of Sekampaneng’s backyard shacks and crowded houses to set up their own homes in Greenfield.

For 27-year-old Wilfred Zomba, his two-room shack represents progress that his parents only dreamt about. “Our parents were born and died in shacks in Sekampaneng. They died with only a dream of getting land. I am doing it, I am taking the land and will start a new life,” he says. Zomba and his twin brother live together in Greenfield. He insists their illegal occupation is justified because the land has not been used for 10 years.

“Since 2005, we have been fighting for houses to be built here. In January we protested again and decided to occupy. This was bushveld, where the community would find dead bodies and stolen property. People were robbed and attacked while walking through this area. Now we’ve made it safe,” Zomba says.

His neighbour is another Greenfield resident, Maria Tlabane (50) and her 24-year-old daughter Francina. She holds a spade in a quivering grip, exhausted from digging a new foundation around her demolished single-room structure, as she recalls the journey to the new settlement.

Last year, Tlabane travelled to Hammanskraal from Seshego in Limpopo, and rented a shack in a friend’s backyard. She then paid R3 500 for a ready-made iron shack, which was delivered to her site in Greenfield, where her yard is big enough to plant mealies, chillies and two fruit trees. 

Despite the lack of water, sanitation and electricity, Tlabane says “this is much better than what we had before. I have a chance to produce my own food and my child has a home of her own.”

Zomba, Tlabane and Ngobeni take pride in their newly acquired land. None of them seem to care about whether they’ve occupied illegally or whether it was given to them under false pretences. But they are nervous about the prospect of the City of Tshwane’s service providers returning to demolish the homes they’ve rebuilt. 

These Greenfield residents insist that they are prepared to defend their space on the dusty bushveld. It’s a defence of their dignity.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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