Evicted during a pandemic

The eThekwini municipality and a security company employed by it are alleged to have evicted shack dwellers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

A self-confessed participant in construction kickbacks being paid to the ANC is at the centre of allegations of illegal evictions ordered by the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality’s anti-land invasion unit.

Calvin Mathibeli’s Calvin and Family Group is a holding company for businesses operating in the construction, project management and hospitality sectors. Other businesses in the group consult on urban infrastructure and supply security and communications services, as well as protective and corporate clothing. A Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission search shows that Mathibeli is an active director in 14 companies. 

In August 2018, he publicly alleged that Durban’s former mayor, Zandile Gumede, had demanded backdoor payments from eight contractors who shared work on a R650 million construction project awarded in 2015. Mathibeli claimed he paid R100 000 to Gumede to get a stake in the tender for the construction projects. It was when she requested a further R150 000 that he publicly spoke out about her asking for these kickbacks. Gumede denied the claims and in late 2018 secured a court interdict to prevent Mathibeli from making defamatory statements about her.

Mathibeli, the owner of both Calvin and Family Properties and Developments and Calvin and Family Security Services, is a celebrated entrepreneur who has received numerous awards over the past few years. In 2017, he was included in Forbes magazine’s list of the Top 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa.

His rags-to-riches story of rising from gardener to construction mogul, via a detour as a cellphone repairer while studying, earned him several entrepreneur profiles in local media. Interest was also generated when he bought his wife, Zone 14 actress Smangele Mathibeli, a Porsche Panamera that retails between R1.4 million and R2.5 million. 

But since South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown started at the end of March, attention has been focused on Calvin and Family Security Services for all the wrong reasons. It is alleged that illegal evictions ordered by the eThekwini municipality’s anti-land invasion unit have seen live ammunition being fired at residents, leaving some with permanent disabilities.

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However, municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayise says the city has only demolished “unoccupied structures”, not conducted any evictions. “The demolitions were within the ambits of the law,” he told New Frame. “The lockdown does not mean that lawlessness should prevail.” 

Mayise also denied any human rights violations. 

Despite repeated requests for details of Calvin and Family Security Services’ appointment as a service provider to the municipality’s anti-land invasion unit, none was provided. “At all times when service providers are appointed, our city is governed by supply chain protocols as stipulated in the Municipal Finance Management Act, and the company you have alluded to is no exception,” was all Mayise would say.

New Frame made repeated attempts to get comment from Mathibeli, but calls and emails went unanswered. 

Lockdown evictions

A research report by the Church Land Programme, a non-governmental organisation in Pietermaritzburg that has investigated the eviction of shack dwellers in eThekwini during the Covid-19 crisis, accuses the municipality of illegally and violently evicting hundreds of residents during the lockdown.

Alice Draper, one of the report’s authors, says these evictions have left countless vulnerable people without any access to shelter in the Azania settlement in Cato Manor, the eKhenana settlement in Cato Crest and Ekuphumeleleni in Marianhill. 

28 July 2020: The remains of one of the homes destroyed in a violent eviction by Durban Metro Police, the anti-land invasion unit and Calvin Security. (Photograph by Abahlali baseMjondolo)
28 July 2020: The remains of one of the homes destroyed in a violent eviction by Durban Metro Police, the anti-land invasion unit and Calvin Security. (Photograph by Abahlali baseMjondolo)

The report, which was released in June, says there have been 18 illegal evictions since the lockdown began in these settlements, affecting about 900 people, many of whom were physically injured. It says evictions had also taken place in Burnwood in Clare Estate, Zamokuhle in Shallcross, Mhlasini in Verulam and S’fiso Ngcobo in Hillcrest.

According to residents of these settlements, Mathibeli’s security company has been the regular partner of the anti-land invasion unit in demolitions since the beginning of the year. 

The president of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, S’bu Zikode, told New Frame that the company first began appearing alongside the unit earlier this year and that it is pointless to distinguish between the two as they effectively do the same work. Zikode says vehicles with Calvin and Family Security Services markings arrive with no sheriff and no court order to perform evictions.

Moratorium ignored

The report says the unit ordered these evictions despite a moratorium on evictions during lockdown issued by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola on 26 March. It says that even without this directive, the eviction of residents and demolition of shacks is only allowed with a court order under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act. 

“In other words, the municipality and Calvin Security have been acting unconstitutionally by performing these evictions and demolitions,” the report says.

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Mayise denied these allegations and confirmed that, according to the law, occupied shacks can only be demolished after the City has gone to court to secure an eviction order. “Even after getting it, there are protocols that are followed,” he said. “It does not mean that now that you have secured an eviction order you could go and demolish immediately without engaging people that are going to be affected.” 

Mayise said “land invaders” could not be allowed to take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis. “Our allowing this unlawful conduct would render this country a banana republic where there is no rule of law,” he said. “We are also accused by residents who reside in formal dwellings that we are not moving with speed in dealing with land invasions that devalue their properties. We find ourselves being between a rock and a hard place.” 

Shootings and destruction

The report makes for harrowing reading, detailing a number of violent incidents that are alleged to have occurred in Azania, eKhenana and Ekuphumeleleni. During an alleged eviction on 21 and 22 April, Calvin and Family Security Services is said to have “violently attacked” residents in eKhenana by “firing live ammunition at unarmed people”.

The report claims that homes were destroyed, possessions stolen and residents abused, despite the fact that 109 families in the settlement had obtained an interdict in February 2019 from the high court in Durban to prevent illegal evictions.

“Despite this violation of the interdict, the [court] has accepted the argument from eThekwini municipality that these are not evictions but the demolitions of new and unoccupied shacks,” reads the report. “However, these shacks have been occupied since the illegal demolitions that occurred in February 2019.”

The report also details how the eKhenana residents won an interdict in court against the municipality’s illegal evictions on 24 April 2020. It alleges that, on the same day, a Mr Mkhize, who leads the anti-land invasion unit, “went to eKhenana settlement in anger at the interdict”.

“He fired live ammunition at the community and hit Yamkela Vezi in the hip causing serious injury,” reads the report. “Abahlali baseMjondolo has opened a charge of attempted murder against Mkhize, but he has not been suspended and continues to lead the anti-land invasion unit team.” 

28 July 2020: Displaced residents were beaten and shot at with rubber bullets. Later, the  anti-land invasion unit returned to the occupation. Residents fear they will be attacked again. (Photograph by Abahlali baseMjondolo)
28 July 2020: Displaced residents were beaten and shot at with rubber bullets. Later, the  anti-land invasion unit returned to the occupation. Residents fear they will be attacked again.
(Photograph by Abahlali baseMjondolo)

Zikode told New Frame that Vezi was shot in “broad daylight”. He said Abahlali baseMjondolo has written to eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda about this, but he has not responded.

The report also details a demolition that allegedly took place on 31 March 2019 in the Azania settlement, during which Namile Nkwalo was shot in the upper arm and Nangomso Jono was shot in the arm and neck with live ammunition.

“According to the residents, Calvin and Family Security Services would first strip the houses and remove furniture and any signs of occupancy,” reads the report. “They would then take photographs to prove that the building is unoccupied and incomplete before demolishing the buildings.” The authors accuse those carrying out the evictions and demolitions of deliberately destroying people’s building material and furniture.

Human rights violations denied

Mayise said those who complained about human rights violations were “free to institute legal action against us based on the evidence they may have at their disposal … These accusations have been levelled against the City by lawbreakers from time immemorial, and I am not aware of any case where the City was once found guilty of gross human rights violations.”

Mayise pointed out that eThekwini has built more than 200 000 houses to date, which are now home to more than a million residents who previously lived in shacks. “Scores are currently housed in transit camps waiting for their houses to be completed and be moved in,” he said.

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Zikode said that despite the report, evictions and demolitions have continued. He accused Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu of hypocrisy because she has remained silent on the plight of Abahlali baseMjondolo activists who are regularly injured or killed, yet she condemned the removal of a naked Bulelani Qolani from his shack in eThembeni in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

“She is a national minister. What bothers her in Cape Town should bother her in other provinces, too,” said Zikode. “We’ve lost 18 activists but we’ve never seen a minister intercede on our behalf.”

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