Violence spirals as Ekurhuleni metro destroys shacks

Run away: The protest in Ivory Park, where a demonstrator directed pupils away from danger. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Run away: The protest in Ivory Park, where a demonstrator directed pupils away from danger. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

“EMPD and the Red Ants have killed two of us.” This chilling claim was made mid-morning on Tuesday. By midday, Ivory Park Extension 3 resembled a warzone.

EMPD is the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department.

The rumour of killings was false, the authorities said, but by then it was too late.

The violence was sparked by the destruction of a three-week-old informal settlement. About 100 shacks had been erected under the electricity pylons that demarcate the boundary between the Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg metros.

At 9am on Monday, EMPD vehicles pulled up next to the informal settlement and the police ordered the occupiers to vacate the area in “120 minutes”.
They refused and, three hours later, four trucks marked the arrival of the Red Ants, a security and eviction company hired by Ekurhuleni metro.

As they approached, armed with axes, hammers, crowbars, pangas “and all sorts of weapons”, the occupants resisted them, trying to protect their valuables and homes. Hours later, the shacks were nothing but a pile of rubble and smouldering ashes.

Their leader, Kenneth Tikwayo, at the forefront of the clash, had a rubber bullet wound on his forehead. He said he had been shot at close range. Dozens of others were reportedly severely injured. The wounded, including a man whose intestines were exposed after being stabbed and who had a serious head wound, were taken to hospital in two hired vehicles that usually transport locals.

“We approached them [the police], trying to find out what was happening. There were about 15 EMPD cars. We told them, if we were on this land unlawfully, they should let us know so we can leave in peace. We told them that we built on this land because we are poor and have nowhere else to go,” Tikwayo said.

“They then asked me, ‘Who are the leaders here? Which party do they represent?’ ”

Red Ants chief operations officer, Fuzile Balintulo, denied that the company had assaulted the land invaders.

“What happened is that Ekurhuleni has been monitoring that area because people have been wanting to invade. Recently they put up half-built structures – none of them were occupied,”  he said.

He said the company was called in to clean up the area. The Red Ants, therefore, had no reason to fight with anyone, he said.

“Hawkers in the area told us that nyaope addicts were stealing from them and hiding in the half-built structures. Everyone was supporting us. So maybe the confrontation was between the two groups, but definitely not us,”  he said.

On Tuesday morning, the residents gathered at the local community hall to map the way forward. At the meeting, Tikwayo reported that two of the shack owners had died in hospital.

Agitated, the group of about 200, chanting struggle slogans, marched to the local councillors’ offices to demand answers. As they approached, the main gates were shut. Incensed, they escalated their protest. By midday, the township’s main intersection was littered with rubbish from toppled bins, rubble and burning tyres. The crowd had grown larger.

A resident looks if anything is left after her house was destroyed. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Asked for the names of the dead, the leaderssaid: “We are still gathering information of everyone injured and missing.” They said officials at the Tembisa Provincial Hospital had told them two people had died.

But the hospital, through the Gauteng department of health, said only two people had been admitted after the clashes “and they are both alive”.

EMPD spokesperson Wilfred Kgasago also denied the allegation: “Two police stations, namely Ivory Park and Tembisa, as well as Tembisa hospital, were visited to verify claims of the injuries and deaths. No reports of deaths were registered at both police stations.”

Kgasago said one person was in ICU with a stab wound in the abdomen, one claimed he was hit with a crowbar and another had stitches to an injury on his head.

The Mail & Guardian saw and spoke to several injured people. Some had bandages wrapped around their heads and others were nursing swollen eyes and a variety of wounds.

Mduduzi Mahlangu, 29, was hit with a crowbar and also had four deep head wounds, all of which had to be stitched. “The panga just missed me,” he said.

Asked why he had occupied the land, he said: “As you can see, I am a grown man, I need to be independent.”

Kgasago said that before the structures were demolished, “owners of the illegally erected structures were verbally warned to voluntarily remove their structures, failing which the Red Ants would be compelled to demolish them. This verbal notification was disseminated at least [two hours] before midday,” Kgasago said.

He said people suspected to be the shack owners threw stones and petrol bombs at the EMPD officers and Red Ants. “Metro police officers were compelled to quell the situation by using rubber bullets,” he said.

Lawyers for Human Rights attorney Louise du Plessis decried the brutality of evictions. “If you evict someone, it must be in a humane manner, even if you have a court order. You can’t do it in the manner in which the Red Ants do it. They just demolish,” she said.

She said previous court judgments had stated that if someone is evicted, they must be given alternative accommodation, but that this was still not happening.

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