Marievale activist’s house petrol bombed

With the community refusing to leave the army base on which they have lived for 20 years, the dispute has turned vicious, with intimidation escalating to potentially deadly acts.

At 1.10am on Thursday, 6 December, Gladys Bambiso, 47, the wife of Marievale activist Chris Koitsioe, was asleep in her shack when she was startled and woken by a loud noise. “I vibrated in the bed,” she said. “I was nervous … I saw a light reflecting on the opposite tree.”

Her shack had been petrol bombed. Koitsioe, who has been at the forefront of the fight against the evictions of the Marievale residents, was not home.

Bambiso’s screams for help alerted her neighbours, who soon arrived with buckets of water to douse the flames. “I would have been burnt and died alone in this house. I am seriously scared now because I don’t know what is going to happen next,” she said.

Community members were able to extinguish the fire before it could cause serious damage. The bomb was fashioned from a plastic bottle containing wires, soil and petrol. It was thrown onto the roof of the shack.

Marievale, on Gauteng’s East Rand, was erected about 20 years ago on a previously abandoned South African National Defence Force (SANDF) base. Since the army attempted to evict more than 600 people last year, the residents have been embroiled in a lengthy court battle for access to their homes.

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Last Friday, the community returned to the North Gauteng High Court seeking a contempt of court order after the army failed to honour previous court orders that had instructed Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the defence force to restore the evicted community members to the Marievale base within 30 days. Judge Norman Davis dismissed the contempt  application. The army has, according to Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), since filed a notice to appeal that judgment, which requires that it take steps to re-accommodate the evicted and displaced residents.

The attack on Koitsioe and his wife comes after the recent ruling that ordered the community and LHR to submit a list of names within five days – ending today – of the people who want to reoccupy the Marievale base. LHR told New Frame that the list of community members’ names was ready to be handed over to the Marievale base commander, Colonel Reah Mkhize, on Thursday.

Given the seriousness of the attack, LHR’s attorney, Louise du Plessis, said the organisation had advised Koitsioe to open a criminal case. In a statement, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) quoted Du Plessis as saying that the “LHR is deeply concerned about the ongoing unlawful conduct taking place at Marievale, especially because of the suspected involvement of the SANDF”.

Bambiso said she had opened a criminal case at the Dunnottar police station, but said she did not have much faith in the police. “When we call at Dunnottar police station to come help us when the soldiers harass us, they say: ‘Siyawasaba amasosha anezibhamu ezinkulu’ [We are scared of the soldiers, they have big guns].”

In the statement, Du Plessis was also quoted as saying that there was “good reason to believe that [Koitsioe] is being targeted for his leadership role in the fight to see justice done for the Marievale community, after the appalling and callous eviction at the hands of the SANDF”. The statement also called on President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mapisa-Nqakula and army chief Lieutenant General Lindile Yam “to condemn these outrageous and persistent attacks on members of the community”.

Since the evictions, Bambiso says her husband has been under threat. “The soldiers say: ‘You, Chris, are deceiving the community.’ They would tell him that he must be killed,” she claimed. “Wherever he dies, I will die with him,” she said.

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