Soshanguve is a vibrant, multicultural area just north of Pretoria. Its name an amalgam of the first few letters of some of the different ethnic groups in the area: Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda. Like many other places across South Africa urban land is intensely contested here.
Two weeks ago a group of land occupiers, on a new occupation just off the R80 close to Mabopane, was allegedly attacked by a private security company and police officers.
Veli Vilakazi, a member of a local business forum, alleges that the land belongs to a property development company, and has been vacant for as long as 25 years with no permanent structures in sight.
“They watched us set up … we noticed the brown nyalas with no number plates, no licence discs and people dressed in camouflage like soldiers, but we didn’t pay attention. As soon as we set up, they started firing rubber bullets at us and took down our shacks,” he claims.
Vilakazi says more than 400 shacks were destroyed and four people were injured. A case has been opened at the Pretoria North police station.
“We don’t qualify for loans or RDP [houses], so what must we do? Some of these people have families to support,” he says.
At another land occupation just down the road, the Tshwane Metro Police Department’s (TMPD) land invasion unit fired rubber bullets and demolished more than 200 structures on Monday, 17 September 2018.
In a statement, TMPD spokesperson Isaac Mahamba said illegal land occupations would not be allowed and would be dealt with accordingly. Mahamba says a court order was produced and occupants were warned to take down their structures. “The land belongs to the municipality,” he says.
At another land occupation, Shellview, named after a nearby Shell garage, men in a makeshift office say they occupied the vacant land on 18 July. They say that they were given permission to live on the land by Chief Kgosi Jacob Kekana of the amaNdebele a Moletlane.
Kekana claims to have title deeds dating as far back as 1916 and 1924, adding that his father, Zebediela Kekana, instituted a land claim in 1995. The land in dispute, however, is also being claimed by the amaNdebele ba Lebelo.
Community leader Orian Mogomotsi claims the land was occupied just last year, but after rivalry between political parties, authorities got involved, and those living on the land were evicted.
The land remained vacant until a makeshift office was erected, and people came to write their names in a book to secure a stand. Mogomotsi says party politics is not welcome in the settlement. “We want no politicians. Here, it’s a community. We all support different parties, but we all live here,” he says.
Mogomotsi claims Kekana has allowed them to live on the land provided they leave two stands for his businesses and space for 70 people from Block KK in Soshanguve. He says all you need to acquire a stand at Shellview is a South African ID and R100 for a water connection and road infrastructure.
There is one tap in sight and no road infrastructure yet. There is a toilet next to the office. There are also no water metres. “The government not providing for us is exactly why people resort to illegal connections,” Mogomotsi says.
The people at Shellview are from in and around Pretoria and Mabopane. Most of them have elected to move to the land as it is close to amenities, schools, jobs and transport arteries. In the last weeks of August, 27 large shacks were erected.
Kekana confirms he is the owner of the land, but says he did not give permission to anyone to live there. “The land must be allocated accordingly, not just grabbing,” he says, adding that he has an eviction order from the North Gauteng High Court from July. “People are doing illegal things there. They are messing with people. They are playing with people’s time. They are wasting their money illegally.”
The land has been set aside for development, Kekana says, which includes plans to build a megacity with bond houses and RDP houses, shopping malls, schools and provincial roads.
The occupants have future development plans of their own. “We are here to stay and develop this area. Long term, we want to start farming because this used to be a farm. We have been waiting for too long for housing,” says Otis Gana, a contractor who applied for housing in 1997.
Emily Chochi, 55, a single parent of five, moved to Tshwane after finding a job as a domestic worker in Winterveldt in 2005. She has been gathering building material to build a home for her son, but this has taken a long time because the “nyaope boys” steal the material and sell it as scrap. She started building in mid-September.
She lives in the RDP houses across the road from the occupation. “We are building for our children, so they have a future. We hope our children will not be moved from here. At least here we are directly across from them so we can take care of them,” says Chochi, who wants to protect her children from rape, drugs and crime.
Limpopo-born Salume Banzi, 61, arrived in the area in 2000 after finding a job. Her husband died in a car accident in 2013. She hopes the shack she is building will help her 22-year-old grandson, who is majoring in education at Unisa, have a brighter future.
“I don’t get a lot from the Sassa [South African Social Security Agency] grant,” Banzi says. “R1 000 of that money goes to rent anyway. I don’t want my grandson to be caught in that life of rent. Even building this for him is expensive – one piece of corrugated iron goes for R100.”
Banzi says she still supports the ruling party and hopes they will provide decent housing for the next generation. “They must not remove us. They must build our children RDP houses,” she says. She doesn’t know who the land belongs to.