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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.

Further reading:

Farm dweller evictions – a fair process


By Simon Dippenaar, originally published at eviction-specialists.co.za

Eviction of farm dwellers is governed by ESTA

The eviction of farm dwellers is a contentious topic. But it can be done with dignity and respect. We explain ESTA and the farm eviction process.

The eviction of farm dwellers has received a lot of media publicity over the past year, particularly in the Western Cape. Some farm labourers have suffered intimidation in the course of eviction and have been reduced to living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in informal settlements after leaving their farm dwelling.

The Extension of Security of Tenure Act 1997 (ESTA) was enacted to provide farm workers with protection against unfair evictions from land they may have occupied for decades and it guarantees them certain rights. It also endows landowners with rights, and attempts to balance the interests of both parties.

Does ESTA prevent farm dweller evictions?

ESTA has been criticised for failing to achieve its objectives and instead being used to justify unfair evictions of farm dwellers. However, the problem does not lie with the legislation, which aims to

According to Hanif Vally, deputy director of the Foundation for Human Rights, most farm evictions are in fact illegal. So the problem lies with the failure of landowners to follow the prescribed process and the lack of enforcement of the legislation. At Simon Dippenaar & Associates Inc. we believe the rights of farm dwellers and landowners alike must be upheld; and we do not condone irresponsible or disrespectful conduct towards tenants.

Situations sometimes arise that make it necessary for a landowner to evict farm dwellers. When that happens we will make sure that tenants are treated fairly and fully within the law, while protecting the rights of owners to use their land as they see fit. As eviction lawyers we understand the eviction process thoroughly – whether governed by PIE or ESTA – and we can ensure landowners do not fall foul of the legislation.

Farm dwellers’ right to residence

If a farm dweller has been resident on the land for 10 years or more and has reached the age of 60, they cannot have their right of residence revoked. But an anomaly in the law says that if the farm is sold, the new owner of the land must consent to the continued occupation by the household.

Municipal housing provision for former farm labourers

Currently in the Western Cape farm evictions are a hot topic. With over 1000 pending evictions and a possible 20,000 people affected, alternative housing is a critical concern. In the Drakenstein district last year two sites were allocated for evictees. The cost of water and sanitation per site was estimated to be R140 000. More municipal sites are needed to accommodate the number of potentially displaced farm dwellers and prevent the unsafe, ad hoc settlements that develop. Although designed to be temporary, former farm workers often remain in informal settlements because they have nowhere else to go; and if their farm employment has been terminated it can be difficult to find alternative employment.

Therefore it is incumbent on farm owners to consider all factors and behave responsibly when faced with the need to evict farm dwellers. If there is no other solution, then a good eviction attorney is essential to uphold the constitutional rights and dignity of all parties involved.

The eviction process for farm dwellers

  1. Landowners must legally terminate the occupier’s right of residence by giving two months’ notice and inform the relevant municipality and Department of Land Affairs of the intention to evict. A legal termination includes ending a lease agreement or a fair dismissal from employment. This notice of motion and supporting affidavit must be served by the sheriff of the court.
  2. A probation officer from Land Affairs will be appointed to draft a report, which the court will consider in determining whether or not to evict.
  3. The occupier has an opportunity to oppose the eviction and file answering papers.
  4. The court will then set a date for the matter to be heard.

Legal advice is essential

Cape Town law firm Simon Dippenaar and Associates Inc are experts in evictions, both residential and agricultural. Let us help you conduct your farm eviction in full compliance with ESTA and all relevant legislation. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.

Further reading: