Motala Heights: Crisis Deepens as Violent Intimidation Against the Strong Poor Continues | Abahlali baseMjondolo
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Motala Heights: Crisis Deepens as Violent Intimidation Against the Strong Poor Continues

Motala Heights

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release
Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Motala Heights Crisis Deepens as Violent Intimidation Against the Strong Poor Continues

Gangster Landlord Continues Campaign of Intimidation with the Support of the Pinetown Police; James Pillay arrested on trumped up charges


James Pillay (centre), ‘Meeting of the Poor Against the Rich’, 17 November 2007

The community of Motala Heights, set on the edge of Pinetown between the factories and the hill that runs up to Kloof, dates back to the early years of the last century and has a rich history. For the last three years it has been under sustained and violent attack from a local gangster businessman who seems to be able to direct the local state, including the police and the Municipality’s Housing Department, at will.

The community is now made up of a wealthy suburb with the big, new mostly face brick houses of the rich in the centre. Behind them are hidden the old tin houses of the poor families and, amongst the gumtrees up on the hill leading up to Kloof, a shack settlement. For some time local businessman and known gangster Ricky Govender has been buying up land and using intimidatory tactics to illegally evict the poor. His attempts to illegally drive out the mostly Indian families from the tin houses, most of whom were born and have lived their whole lives in the community, dates back to at least 2005. He has also been directly implicated in the violent and illegal attempts by the eThekwini Municipality to evict the mostly African shack dwellers which date back to 2006.

The first attackon the shack settlement was launched over the youth day weekend on 2006. Ward Councillor Derek Dimba arrived at the Motala Heights settlement with municipal officials and 5 car loads of municipal security guards to mark out shacks that would then be destroyed by the highly militarised and clearly, in it terms of its stated purpose and day to day actions, criminal armed wing of the Municipality – its notorious Land Invasions Unit. On the following Monday the then Motala Heights Development Committee (affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo) won an urgent meeting with Geoff Nightingale from the the Pinetown office of the eThekwini Municipality. He told them that they would have to accept eviction as “The Municipality won’t build houses in Motala because Ricky Govender wants to develop the area himself”. As people are being evicted from the land on which they were born and grew up Govender is using it to develop factories and private housing projects for the rich.

On Women’s Day that year Cllr Dimba returned to the settlement with pistol holstered to each hip and flanked by his usual cohort of armed men. He summoned the community to a meeting where he began by gesturing to his weapons and promised to ‘chase away’ named individuals on the democratically elected committee. Dimba is often seen in Govender’s mansion and when he has been told that the poor will not accept forced removal and eviction and want houses to be built in Motala Heights he has often said that “the only person that will build houses in Motala Heights is Ricky Govender” and, in the exact language of apartheid, that the shack dwellers must “go back where they came from”. The Municipality began to evict people from the shack settlement on 28 October 2006 and returned on four occasions to continue the attack. On each occasion the evictions were accompanied by violence. They were carried out without a court order and were therefore illegal and in fact criminal acts. Members of the Land Invasions Unit and the Pinetown SAPS were seen openly eating bunnychows and drinking beer in Ricky Govender’s bar before they came up the hill to demolish the shacks. On 31 October the then Chairperson of the Motala Heights Development Committee, Bheki Ngcobo, presented to the Land Invasions Unit a copy of a lawyers’ letter addressed to Mayor Obed Mlaba and City Manager Mike Sutcliffe instructing them to immediately cease these criminal acts. The Land Invasions Unit responded by pepper spraying Ngcobo at point blank range and viciously kicking him after he fell to the ground. The SAPS then fired shots at the crowd that rushed to support Ngcobo and told Ngcobo that “Ricky Govender is the mayor here.”

Since then the Pinetown SAPS have on many occasions blatantly refused to open cases against Govender or his staff and have simply referred people with complaints directly to Govender. People have even been told to take problems that have nothing to do with Govender, such as as domestic violence, to Govender. The Pinetown SAPS behave as if they are under Govender’s authority and as if he is above the law. For many years his bar was co-owned with a senior officer in the Pinetown SAPS (he passed away very recently). The Municipality act in the same way. They refer all local complaints and queries, even applications for a trading licence, to Govender as if he has sole and total authority over all aspects of life in Motala Heights.

The Municipality’s criminal attacks on the shack settlement were eventually stopped on 29 November 2006 when Abahlali baseMjondolo went to court and won a court order interdicting the Municipality from carrying out illegal evictions. Since then there have been various kinds of intimidation and Dimba, most recently on 24 February 2008, has repeated that the poor will have to leave Motala Heights as “only Govender will be building houses here.” However despite all these threats the shack still stand and under the interdict they remain protected from unlawful demolition by the Municipality.

Govender’s attempt to drive out the residents of the tin houses came to a head in August 2007 when he personally promised to bulldoze the house in which elderly couple James and Gonum Pillay had been living for 25 years. They were subject to all kinds of intimidation including violence from Govender and on 7 October 2007 they went to court and were awarded an interdict preventing Govender from unlawfully evicting them or from intimidating them in anyway or using his employees or associates to intimidate them in any way.

Since then they have not been evicted but they have been subject to constant intimidation by Govenders’ employees and family members. These intimidatory acts are in clear violation of the law and the interdict. There are witnesses to each of these instances and they have all been carefully recorded. They include threats of violence and arson, a number of instances of violence, insults of the most crude kind, parking a car across the Pillay’s driveway preventing their visitors from leaving, the discovery of 4 petrol bombs with a long fuse placed outside the house and more. The Pillay’s have also been threatened by gangsters from Chatsworth who came to their house, told them to leave, and said that they could do nothing because ‘we are not Ricky’.

Other Abahlali activists in Motala Heights Heights have also been threatened and assaulted by Govender and his associates including Shamita Naidoo, the Chairperson of the Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch and Louisa Motha, the treasurer on the Abahlali baseMjondolo secretariat. Two activists have also received threats of murder and arson via telephone calls from a man claiming to be the nephew of Councillor Derick Dimba. However Dimba has denied responsibility for these calls and it is believe that Govender is behind them. Indian activists have often been warned ‘not to stand with the blacks’ and told that ‘the blacks will be made to go here from here, Ricky doesn’t want them here’. The husbands of women Abahlali members have often been warned and told that ‘they must control their wives’. Govender has also threatened to have local Abahlali members charged with trespassing if they step on to any of his land to meet with his tenants. Moreover Govender has also been openly and illegally dumping huge piles of toxic industrial waste (including asbestos and chemicals) from his factories right outside peoples’ front doors in an attempt to force them out.

When The Mercury newspaper went to Motala Heights to cover the story on 31 August 2007 photographer Steven Naidoo was personally accosted by Govender and two other men who detained him against his will, took the memory stick out of his camera and threatened to have him killed. The photographer was only released after the armed intervention of the eThekwini Metropolitan Police.

The ongoing intimidation of the Pillays came to a head on Tuesday last week when Leon Govender arrived at the Pillay’s house with his family and others to threaten them. A teenage girl threw a knife across the fence at Mrs Pillay, an elderly woman, and threatened to assault her. Leon Govender’s brother-in-law, Peter Singarum, had a panga in each hand and threatened to kill James Pillay.

James Pillay called Bheki Ngcobo, the Deputy Chair of the Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch, for help. As Ngcobo arrived at the house Singarum tried to attack him with the pangas. Ngcobo called for further help. A large group of Abahlali members arrived. In response to an attempted attack with a panga a stone was thrown hitting one of the attackers at which point they all fled. That was the extent of the defensive violence and it was not committed by James Pillay.

However the next day the Pinetown SAPS arrived at the Pillay’s house with Leon Govender and Peter Singarum and informed James Pillay that he would be arrested but could not specify a charge. The police returned the following day and called for Ricky Govender. Shag Govender, a relative and employee of Ricky Govender’s who has been systematically intimidating the Pillay’s since they won the interdict against Ricky Govender, came down instead and told the police that the Pillays had no right to the house and that they must tear it down and leave. He said that the interdict preventing Govender from unlawfully evicting them was ‘just paper’ and that they must go. Officer Viljoen of the SAPS told James Pillay that “You are not the owner of this land. You have disobeyed the landowner. You must break everything down now.” James Pillay was then arrested on charges of assault and malicious damage to property (it was alleged that he had damaged Leon Govender’s car – however there are no visible signs of damage). After his arrest Viljoen told him that “The blacks will be removed from the jondolos one by one what ever you people say. I’ll make your life very difficult.” Although she and the other officer had openly taken direction from Shag Govender she refused to speak to Bheki Ngcobo, the Deputy Chair of Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch saying “He has no rights to speak to me.”

James Pillay was held in the Pinetown police station for 47 hours and 45 minutes without the option of bail on the obviously spurious grounds that bail could not be awarded as they were waiting for witnesses to come forward. His arrest was entirely groundless and a blatant attempt at intimidation on behalf of Ricky Govender. However he was not assaulted while in custody. Abahlali baseMjondolo is currently discussing a strategy to ensure that, at the very least, Ricky Govender is compelled to obey the law and the state is compelled to stop taking orders from Govender as if he is a power above the law. In the meantime:

1. All the Abahlali baseMjondolo members in the area will stand together to support each other and to try and ensure each other’s safety against Ricky Govender and his thugs in and out of the uniform of the South African Police Services.
2. Abahlali baseMjondolo will hold Ricky Govender personally responsible should there be any assault on any Abahlali member or if any one’s house is burnt down.
3. Abahlali baseMjondolo will sue the police for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution of James Pillay.
4. Abahlali baseMjondolo will seek the arrest of anyone trying to illegally evict any of its members from a tin house or shack in Motala Heights whether they are in the pay of the state or Ricky Govender or both.

The Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch issues the following demands:

1. The Pinetown SAPS must explain the nature of its relationship with Ricky Govender and this relationship must be subject to an independent and credible investigation.
2. The eThekwini Municipality, and in particular the Housing Department, must explain the nature of its relationship with Ricky Govender and this relationship must be subject to an independent and credible investigation. There needs to be particular attention to the decision to evict the poor from their homes in order to allow Govender to develop Motala Heights for his personal profit. Cogi Pather must personally come to Motala Heights and explain to the people what is going on.
3. All evictions of the poor from Motala Heights must cease immediately and permanently.
4. The Municipality must make a clear statement on the right of the poor, Indian and African, to live and to be housed in Motala Heights.
5. Negotiations between Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Municipality must begin with a view to building houses for the poor, Indian and African, in Motala Heights
6. The Municipality must immediately instruct Ricky Govender to remove the toxic waste that he has dumped outside people’s homes and to cover all medical expenses of people that have fallen ill as a result of the toxic waste.

There are two incompatible visions for the future of Motala Heights. Ricky Govender, Cllr. Dimba and the eThekwini Housing Department want all of the poor people to be chased out of the area so that it can be developed for the rich. Abahlali baseMjondolo, which represents the poor in Motala Heights, wants housing to be built for the poor in the area. Abahlali baseMjondolo calls on all the churches, trade unions and community organisations to take a clear stand against the anti-poor vision and for the pro-poor vision. As Bishop Rubin Phillip said in his UnFreedom Day speech “For too long our city and our country and our world have put the poor last on the list of concerns. It is time for the last to be first.” Development must be with the poor for the poor – not with the rich against the poor.

For comment and up to the minute information contact:

Shamita Naidoo, Chairperson Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch 0743157962
Bheki Bgcobo, Deputy Chairperson Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch 0785346007
Mashumi Figlan, Deputy President, Abahlali baseMjondolo 0795843995
Mnikelo Ndabankulu, PRO, Abahlali baseMjondolo 0797450653

For a fuller background to the struggle in Motala Heights including press releases, newspaper articles and photographs visit: http://abahlali.org/node/2377