Durban shack dwellers illegally evicted

Just about every week of the lockdown, shack dwellers in Durban have faced demolition crews who burn their belongings and leave them homeless – in violation of the law, and despite the moratorium on evictions.

The Church Land Programme, an NGO in Pietermaritzburg, has issued an independently researched report on illegal and violent evictions carried out against residents of a number of land occupations in Durban. This is a lightly edited excerpt from that report.

The eThekwini Municipality in Durban has ordered illegal and violent mass evictions of shack dwellers during the coronavirus lockdown. Around 900 people have been affected with many sustaining serious physical injuries.

The eThekwini anti-land invasion unit is responsible for issuing orders for these evictions and various organisations have been contracted by the municipality to assist with the demolitions. This includes the private security company Calvin and Family Security Services, the South African National Defence Force, the Durban Metro Police and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

These evictions have been occurring during the coronavirus lockdown – despite a moratorium on evictions issued by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola. Even without the minister’s moratorium, evictions and demolitions are unlawful without a court order under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation Land Act 19 of 1998. In other words, the municipality is acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally by performing these evictions and demolitions.

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The evictions began on the first day of the lockdown, 27 March 2020, when nine vehicles with “Calvin Security” markings arrived at the Ekuphumeleleni settlement. The security guards were not accompanied by a sheriff, did not exhibit a court order and did not claim to be acting on behalf of a court order. They demolished eight homes, marked 17 homes with the date “27/03/20” and marked a further 10 with an “X”. A further series of demolitions occurred at the eKhenana and Azania settlements. In one instance, any community member who questioned or stood in the way of the demolition was shot at with pellet guns. Multiple injuries were sustained during these demolitions.

There have been repeated evictions in these settlements, as well as in Burnwood in Clare Estate, Zamokuhle in Shallcross, Mhlasini in Verulam and S’fiso Ngcobo in Hillcrest. This excerpt from the full report provides some basic details on the situation in the first three settlements that were attacked – Azania, eKhenana and Ekuphumeleleni, all of which are affiliated with Abahlali baseMjondolo, the autonomous shack dwellers’ movement.

The Azania settlement

The Azania settlement in Cato Manor is in the ANC-held Ward 29, under Counsellor Mveli Mthembu. The land was first occupied on 26 February 2019 with 450 households. This number was periodically reduced due to pressure from the City and private security firms acting on its behalf. Currently, all that is left is vacant land and the ruins of building material and furniture.

There have been 11 demolitions since the coronavirus lockdown began. Those carrying out the evictions and demolitions also deliberately destroyed people’s building material and furniture. They later burnt it and all that’s left on the site are some mattresses and clothes.

Over 300 people have been affected during these demolitions, including two people who were shot with live ammunition, and three with tear-gas canisters on 31 March 2020.

Namile Nkwalo was shot on the upper arm and Nangomso Jono was shot on the arm and the neck. Her arm is now paralysed. Jono was due for an operation on her neck because of the bullet’s position. They were both treated at Albert Luthuli Hospital. Three other people were injured during the demolitions. All five of those injured possess medical certificates.

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The affected people who have lost their homes include three newborn babies, one three-month-old baby, a four-year-old child, six pregnant women, an elderly woman called Zodwa Miya with diabetes and high blood pressure and a disabled 59-year-old man, Hawukelwa Ngongoma, who has visual and hearing impairments.

This case went to court and the residents of Azania settlement lost the case. According to the residents, Calvin and Family Security Services would first strip the houses and remove the furniture and any signs of occupancy. They would then take photographs to “prove” that the building was unoccupied and incomplete before demolishing the structure. These photographs were used to help win the court case.

During the 11 demolitions that occurred during the lockdown between 31 March and 25 May approximately 60 homes occupied by roughly three people each were destroyed each time. Prior to lockdown, there had been eight demolitions between 26 February 2019 and 26 February 2020 in which 1 649 homes were destroyed.

The eKhenana settlement

This settlement is based in Cato Crest in the ANC Ward 101 under Counsellor Muzimuni Ngiba. The residents first occupied this land in early May 2018 with an initial three households. Between June and September 2018, the settlement grew with a further 73 households. There are currently 109 households.

There have been 29 demolitions since the residents first occupied the area. This includes four attempted demolitions since lockdown began, with three unsuccessful and one successful.

On 15 April, 13 occupied homes were demolished, which had approximately five people per household. The building material was destroyed or removed from the site. This eviction was carried out by Calvin and Family Security Services, the Metro anti-land invasion unit and another unknown private security company. Those affected in the demolitions include two disabled teenagers born in 2005 and 2004 as well as 15 toddlers who are still dependent on their mothers for milk.

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On 24 April, eKhenana settlement won an interdict in court against the municipality’s illegal evictions. Shortly after the victory, Mkhize, the leader of the city’s anti-land invasion unit, went to eKhenana settlement in anger at the interdict. He fired live ammunition at the residents and hit Yamkela Vezi in the hip, causing serious injury. Abahlali baseMjondolo has attempted to open a charge of attempted murder against Mkhize multiple times. They were eventually successful, but Mkhize has not been suspended and continues to lead the anti-land invasion unit team.

The further three attempted demolitions were unsuccessful as the community defended itself. These took place on 22 April, 12 May and 17 May – and they involved ward counsellor Muzimuni Ngiba, Calvin Security, the Metro anti-land invasion unit and the SAPS.

Between September and December 2018, seven evictions took place, demolishing 491 homes. Many more demolitions were carried out in 2019.

The Ekuphumeleleni settlement

Ekuphumeleleni is in Marianhill in ANC Ward 17 under Counsellor Sibusiso Khwela, who is also known as Khekhe. The settlement was first occupied by its current occupants in early August 2019 with just eight households. A further 15 homes were built and occupied between September and December 2019. Currently, there are 11 households. Since these demolitions occurred during the lockdown, Ekuphumeleleni hasn’t been to court. But they did win a case against illegal evictions years ago.

Five separate evictions and demolitions have occurred during the lockdown that have directly affected 70 people. The last demolition occurred on 18 May and the security company promised to return after lockdown to destroy the remaining homes. There haven’t been any recent demolitions prior to lockdown, mainly because this settlement is hidden away among bushes and behind a formal settlement. During these demolitions, the building material was destroyed and removed from the site.

During the last eviction, two people were attacked with pangas by security personnel. One of those attacked is called Siphelele, while the second person’s identity has not been made public. Those affected by the demolitions include two pensioners, one of whom is called Mr Sithole, 15 toddlers who are still dependent on their mothers for milk, as well as 30 children still in primary school.

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