Homes have been demolished in Vusimuzi in the name of reblocking, which the City of Ekurhuleni praises as a new way of bringing infrastructure to shack settlements. But the process sometimes requires people to give up their homes completely without any alternative arrangements being made.
“All of our belongings are wet,” says a resident, adamant her home was intentionally demolished before a huge downpour. “I did not sleep last night. We were in so much pain with no one to talk to.”
Motshehwa Mmifi, 47, says she was not alerted before her and her brother’s homes were demolished in Mangosotho section. No alternative accommodation or building materials were provided by the City.
Her shack was demolished despite the imminent rain, then left her possessions outside, exposing them to the elements. The day before, they stripped her brother’s shack, removing his clothes and putting them in her shack. “We asked where my brother and I would put our clothes if it was going to rain and we had not been given new homes,” says Mmifi.
Some of her goods were damaged, including a mirror, a wardrobe and some glasses. Other possessions were then damaged by the rain. She has been unemployed since 2010 when she worked as a cashier. She will now have to share a place with her brother, who was building a new shack on Thursday morning.
“I cannot live with my brother and his wife and children when I also have a 22-year-old son. This feels like revenge for us saying we don’t want to be moved in an inhumane manner,” she says.
Mmifi, who has lived in Vusimuzi since 2005, is against reblocking when it forces people out of their homes. She says other residents accused them of being violent, which she finds strange as some of the accusers came to her home carrying bricks and stones on the day her shack was demolished. She has a bruise on her left calf.
The Ward 90 councillor, Hendrick Selwana, was present on Thursday afternoon, but he stood far off with a group of contract workers. Mmifi says it hurts her that he did not even come to check on her even though he knew it was raining the day before. She claims he told her she must apologise and ask the community for forgiveness before he would help her.
Mmifi says that at the beginning of November, the councillor asked if Mangosotho residents wanted electricity. They told him they want it but there were “certain people” who didn’t. He allegedly responded by asking them what they wanted to do about the people who didn’t want electricity, telling them that they must not be afraid of a few women acting through Abahlali baseMjondolo.
“It shows that he wants the community to be the ones who deal with us … It’s not that we don’t want [reblocking], we just want the right measurements and building material because you cannot break down someone’s shack with furniture inside without providing them with a place to leave their possessions or to sleep,” she says.
John Dlongolo, 54, is unemployed and lives with his family of seven. He sympathises with Mmifi.
“They could have finished the brother’s shack and placed him before demolishing her home so she had a place to put her things. They are giving other people homes, but she has not been given a new home because she is part of Abahlali. If she was ANC, they would give her a home,” he claims.
His home has not been reblocked yet, but he fears the development will reach his section. If his shack is reduced, his family will either be squashed into one house, or his children will be moved to a different area.
“[It’s like] we are all forced to get [reblocked]. We were told it was for those who are facing the street, now everyone is being realigned. The measurements are so small. This was not a squatter camp, and [they are] making it a squatter camp,” he says.
Dlongolo has seen the benefits of reblocking in other areas, but thinks it is being implemented badly in certain parts of Vusimuzi.
“In my 26 years living here, I must chop a portion of my hard-earned home to give to someone else. I have children. Where will my children get a place to live? [The person in charge of reblocking] must at least cut for my children, but instead he cuts and adds a stranger in my yard with no material. He tells us. He does not ask us,” he says.
He claims the leadership in the area is dividing residents, including the councillor who “is not supposed to be picking sides. He is supposed to represent everyone but he tells [residents] that we are blocking their freedom”.
His wife narrowly missed being hit with a hammer during an altercation on Wednesday when Mmifi’s home was forcefully demolished by residents and contract workers. Most of those employed are residents from Esithineni section, where reblocking is also taking place.
“[The ward councillor, Selwana,] is done dividing us. We are all fighting now. Anyone can die. We are not safe. We will never get along, if we are beating each other up. We will end up killing each other. What’s sad is that this is instigated by a councillor who is supposed to protect us,” says Dlongolo.
In the face of the allegations, Selwana told New Frame he would prefer to meet face to face later in the week. When told the deadline for this article, he said the matter could not be discussed over the phone and then hung up.
Beaten for speaking out
Melita Ngcobo, chairperson of the Vusimuzi branch of Abahlali baseMjondolo, asked during the demolition of Mmifi’s place on Wednesday 20 November why the residents were demolishing the homes without providing her with building material and without checking the court order.
The residents then attacked Ngcobo for interfering with the reblocking process, saying she was stalling progress in the community. She was assaulted and then detained at Tembisa (Rabasotho) Police Station where a sergeant confirmed she was in their custody but had not been charged because their system was offline. She did not receive medical attention despite injuries to her mouth, head and legs.
The court order by Judge Victor of the South Gauteng High Court, dated 9 September 2019, states that affected familes must be consulted before the implementation of reblocking and realignment. This followed earlier demolitions of homes, which sometimes took place while people were at work. In an instance in 2018, Acting Judge Wanless issued an interdict following a number of evictions in which residents were not informed of the imminent demolitions.
On Thursday 21 November, Ngcobo confirmed that she had a case number. She briefly appeared at the Tembisa South Magistrate’s Court on two charges on Friday 22 November before being released.
Reblocking has been met with resistance by different groups in areas of Ekurhuleni such as Vusimuzi, Tswelopele, and Duduza – where it has been rolled out slowly. There have been threats from those in favour of reblocking and from those who are demolishing as well as from contract workers paid to install electricity cables and water pipes but who cannot do so because of resistance to reblocking.
In most instances, goods have been damaged or stolen and homes destroyed. The City has responded by encouraging those who feel aggrieved to open cases, or to report their goods missing, while the City’s lawyer claimed in court in June that reblocking does not displace people or cause damage to their homes. According to the City, homes are supposed to be 10m by 12m, and this has resulted in those with bigger homes having theirs reduced.
“[Selwana] is a taxi owner and he comes with a strategy from the taxi side … [Ngcobo] was beaten for speaking the truth … Now today we are being made to do things by force. If you don’t agree you are beaten. The councillor is using people from other sections, those who install toilets and those who install electricity, those are the ones who beat us,” says Dlongolo, adding that Mangosotho residents have not been employed in the reblocking project.