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Homeless

Evicted [squatters]: “The Red Ants broke into … shacks”

By | Eviction news, Homeless

A few days before Christmas, while residents of a farm behind Cradlestone Mall were at work, the notorious Red Ants marched onto the land and tore down their homes [… evicting the squatters].

“They were just breaking down the houses and destroying everything,” says community leader Jeanette Baleni. “It was terrible, I cried that day.”

The farm, in the west of Johannesburg, had been acquired by Absa’s development subsidiary Blue Age Properties 60 Ltd in 2014 and the bank had obtained an eviction order against the residents in 2015. Absa claimed the land had been illegally occupied, but because there was nowhere to move the people to, the eviction order was only acted on in December last year.

“They misled the court,” said human rights lawyer Tracey Lomax, acting for the residents who say they’re the descendants of farm workers on the property for generations.

“They were simply treated like squatters … as if they had moved in illegally the month before,” she said. Lomax explained that once an eviction order is granted, relocating people becomes the responsibility of the municipality – in this case, Mogale City.

Baleni said Absa held meetings with Mogale City about the relocation but had not consulted the residents. “In 2015 the municipality came to tell us we’re illegal occupants,” Baleni said, adding that they paid rent – some for as long as 10 years – through a scheme started by the previous property owner who had a security business.  

“We were renting from Gideon Ntini, from Interactive Security – he brought many of us here. He showed me the place actually,” Clayton Kamurai said, who also denied being an illegal occupant. Interactive Security National Sales Manager Renier de Meyer dismissed the claims.

Absa has denied that the process of eviction was flawed.  “The court went through a process of determining who had what interest in that piece of land before deciding to issue the relocation order. At no point was any such claim made by anyone, that is, from the time Blue Age became the owner of the land and throughout the consultation process,” Absa’s head of Media Relations Phumza Macanda said.

[The municipality] promised us stands, water, electricity and other things.

When contacted for help before the eviction happened, Mogale City councillor Molefi Sebilo told the community they would be moved to another ‘better’ place as soon as possible. A year went by until last October when Selibo informed the residents they were being moved in three weeks. The community drafted a letter to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in Pretoria demanding to know why they had been given only a three-week deadline. A November meeting held between the municipality, the community and the department to establish how the relocation was to proceed.

Broken Promises [to evicted squatters]

“[The municipality] promised us stands, water, electricity and other things,” Baleni said. Health-e News has a recording of the meeting where a municipality representative called Tshepiso Ndlovu is heard  saying: “At your new place, we’re going to install tap water, we’re going to give you stands, build toilets with running water and streets.” But according to the community, these were just empty promises. The reality was a disaster.

On 3 December Baleni was told the community would be moved two days later. Instead, the following day while residents were at work, the Red Ants arrived and broke into people’s shacks to move their belongings to the new place. 

“Furniture was broken, our things were stolen – even our money,” Baleni remembered. 

evicted squatters Cape Town
Blame Game: Absa and Mogale City Municipality are pointing fingers at each other for who was responsible for the relocation. (Photo: Health-e News TV Unit)

Blame Game: Absa and Mogale City Municipality are pointing fingers at each other for who was responsible for the relocation. (Photo: Health-e News TV Unit)

The community [and evicted squatters] said toilets only arrived after three days, and were inadequate. They currently share one working chemical toilet amongst 100 people and they have one illegal water connection provided by pitying neighbours and no electricity.

Some [evicted squatters] weren’t given any shelter and had to scrounge for materials in the rain to build a structure for their families. When Health-e News interviewed Mogale City municipality about the promises they made, councillor Selibo said: “I don’t know who promised them that [tap water and toilets]. They [the community] are telling a lie.” However, he admitted that Absa was in a hurry and there should have been proper planning for the relocation.

But Macanda argued this wasn’t Absa’s responsibility, but that of Mogale City which had three years to sort things out. Lomax, who works for Access to Justice and represents the Absa Squatter Camp community, said the treatment of the residents had been unfair. “Poor people are treated as if they don’t have agency … as if you are their father and you will let them know as much as you think they should know,” she said.

Any municipality tasked with eviction is constitutionally obliged to house people properly, Lomax explained. “My clients had strong ties to the land and we’re considering a damages claim.”

And now the neighbours and everyone relying on the water flowing from the wetland adjacent to the newly established informal settlement have been affected by the move. 

Mogale City Municipality has admitted that no environmental impact assessment was done, nor was the Department of Water and Sanitation notified. Residents argue the Absa Squatter Campsite is inappropriate because informal settlements on wetlands that don’t have proper sanitation could pose serious health and environmental hazards.

Human waste causes a high biological load that pollutes the water, water expert Anthony Turton said.  “Because the area is largely basement granite, the boreholes in the area are relatively shallow, about 30m deep,” he explained. “This puts the neighbour’s water at risk of contamination too.” 

The wetland next to the Absa Squatter Camp supplies water to the Crocodile River which feeds into the Hartbeespoort Dam, a strategic water resource. Local farmers are worried about the Absa squatter camp being on the wetland because they fear ecoli contamination of the water they rely on for growing vegetables.

According to Lomax, the municipality only secured the property a couple of months before the relocation. She explains: “That is a problem because wetlands are scarce and heavily protected by environmental legislation. I am astonished they were allowed to do this where there is a wetland nearby.” 

The municipality promised to put  in bulk infrastructure to deal with the poor sanitation. But a visit to the pump station about a kilometre away revealed that it hasn’t functioned properly for five years and overflows into the wetland, causing further pollution.

According Absa, the land was identified by Mogale City Municipality and Blue Age merely facilitated the acquisition and transfer of that land. The bank paid R3.6-million for the land and R3.1-million for the relocation – monies that will be recouped against bulk services at their Cradlestone property.

The [evicted squatters] feels betrayed and has lost hope, said Baleni. “I don’t think [the] Human Rights Commission will agree with the conditions we are living under, I want to see justice.” – Health-e News.

Source: HEALTH-e News (emphasis by Eviction Lawyers, SDLAW*)

*Cape Town Lawyers, Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc., is a law firm in Cape Town CBD of specialised eviction lawyers offering legal help to landlords and tenants regarding residential, commercial and farm evictions. Now helping clients in Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal.

Groundbreaking eviction order stops unlawful eviction with damages

By | Eviction news, Homeless

Pretoria – In another massive victory for the landless, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria not only ruled that the ousted residents of Monflorah Park could stay in peace on the land they call home in Tembisa, but it was ordered that each resident should receive emergency damages of R1 500.

Community members of Monflorah Park waiting for the green light to live in peace. Picture: Zelda Venter

Acting Judge Anthony Millar further ordered that the City of Ekurhuleni had to launch an investigation into claims by the residents that its metro police (EMPD) allegedly solicited bribes from the residents in order to leave them in peace.

The judge ordered the municipality to, within 30 days, file a report with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority and with the court regarding the bribery claims.

The mostly woman-headed households earlier turned to the court with the help of Lawyers for Human Rights after they had been “evicted” from the land by the EMPD once again. 

To make matters worse, this time, the EMPD destroyed and burnt all their belongings. This was captured on video by one of the bystanders and handed to court. In the clip, women can be heard begging the officers to not destroy the little they had. They begged to be given time to at least salvage their belongings.

Florah Tjabadi, leader of Monflorah Park in Tembisa. Picture: Zelda Venter

The result of this was that the women, babies and small children had to sleep on the barren ground and ashes after everything was destroyed.

The EMPD denied that the images depicted on the footage depicted this scene and it accused LHR of submitting footage of another scene.

Judge Millar on Monday went on an inspection in loco to the scene, together with the various legal teams, to see for himself how it looked. They compared the pictures to the property and it was confirmed that the footage was indeed of this scene.

Another excuse forwarded by the EMPD for their conduct was that the structures were mostly incomplete and that it thus could not be called home by the residents. Thus, the EMPD said, they did not evict anyone as they did not live there.

But the video footage showed that the structures were not vacant when the EMPD demolished it and that the residents in fact did live there.

Judge Millar declared the evictions unlawful and unconstitutional. He interdicted the municipality and the EMPD from evicting these people until they had obtained a legal eviction order. They were also interdicted from damaging the property of these residents in future.

About 50 mostly armed members of the EMPD earlier this year broke down the shacks and burnt the belongings of the households of Monflorah Park.

This after the residents claimed that they were paying the police bribes as demanded by them,  to be left alone.

Leader of the group, Florah Tjabadi told the court that Tjabadi  shortly after settling there, they were confronted by the EMPD, who agreed to leave them in peace if the community paid them bribes. 

“Out of fear and desperation we succumbed to the demands and I managed to collect R2 000 between the families. I was horrified by having to do this,” she said.

But according to her in spite of this, their homes and belongings were still destroyed.

Source: IOL (emphasis by SDLAW*)

*Cape Town Eviction Attorneys, Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc., is a law firm in Cape Town, of specialised eviction attorneys, assisting both landlords and tenants with the the eviction process. Contact us for eviction help on +27 (0) 86 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.

Further reading:

About 1 000 shacks demolished in Johannesburg by JMPD, Red Ants

By | Eviction news, Homeless

The Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and an army of Red Ants — carrying crowbars, riot shields and rubber bullet guns — demolished about 1 000 shacks on two properties in Rabie Ridge on Tuesday morning.

Demolish shacks - eviction lawyers South Africa
Red Ants and Johannesburg Metro Police demolished about 1 000 shacks. (Zoe Postman/GroundUp

One property, named Mayibuye by the occupiers, was first occupied in February, according to a GroundUp  report.

The other property, across the road, was occupied about three weeks ago.

Occupiers in Mayibuye said the JMPD had evicted them about four times since February, but this was the first time the Red Ants had been involved. This was the second time people living on the property across the road had been evicted.

Some occupiers watched from the sidelines as their homes were demolished. Beds and clothing were strewn across the property while corrugated iron and wood — once the walls of the occupiers’ homes — were burned.

Thabo Malekutu, one of the occupiers in Mayibuye, said he had received a call from one of his neighbours while he was at work in the morning.

“They told me they heard rumours that Red Ants were coming to demolish our shacks so I just left work without even giving notice,” he said.

When he arrived, he said, he had tried to salvage as much as he could but his materials were still burnt. Standing a few kilometres away from what used to be his home, Malekutu said: “I don’t even want to go close because it’s going to stress me.”

‘What am I going to tell’ my children?

He said he had paid R1 500 to a community leader for his stand and R3 500 for his materials.

“And now it’s all gone. It’s so painful.”

Malekutu said his two children, aged two and seven, had been at crèche at the time of the eviction.

“What am I going to tell them when they get back and see they have no home? Where are we going to sleep tonight?” he asked.

Another occupier from Mayibuye, Kgomotso Madisha, said his ID had been among the belongings burnt during the eviction. He said the Red Ants and JMPD officers had not given people time to remove all their belongings from the shacks.

“They just started burning … We tried to save a few things but a lot of my clothes and documents were still inside,” he said. “How am I going to find a job without an ID and how will I vote on 8 May?”

After demolishing the shacks in Mayibuye, the Red Ants and JMPD officers started demolishing shacks on a property across the road.

Dipuo Mlangeni, one of the occupiers on that property, said she had lived in a shack with three other family members. She said her bed, kitchen appliances, blankets and study materials had been burnt during the eviction.

“We came here because we don’t have money and we need a place to live … This land has been standing empty for years. Our government is not right and they still want us to vote. Let it be clear: we will not vote if this is how we are treated,” said Mlangeni.

40 or 50 illegal shacks demolished daily

She said the occupiers had no choice but to rebuild their homes in the same place because they had nowhere else to stay.

Another occupier, Victor Molaobi, said: “They see us as staying here illegally but when it’s time to vote, they want us all to vote.”

He said most occupiers would not be voting in next week’s elections.

Asked whether there was an eviction order by a court, JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said: “Any shack or house that is built on land that has not been hired or purchased is illegal and will be removed.”

Minnaar told GroundUp that Red Ants had been brought in to assist the JMPD with evictions because there were so many shacks. He said the JMPD had demolished about 1 000 shacks.

He added that the JMPD demolished about 40 or 50 illegal shacks a day on average in Johannesburg.

He said he did not know who owned the properties which were demolished on Tuesday.

Asked for comment, a City of Johannesburg spokesperson said he would confirm on Thursday whether the properties were City-owned and whether there was an eviction order. The City’s comment will be added once it is received.

Originally featured on: News24

Further reading:

*Eviction Attorneys Cape Town, Simon Dippenaar & Associates Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialised eviction lawyers based in Cape Town, and now Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal, operating nationally.