Mayor, city are ‘in contempt’
By Anelisa Kubheka
Three years after being evicted and promised permanent homes, former residents of Siyanda Informal Settlement near KwaMashu are suing the eThekwini Municipality and its officials for not complying with a high court order.
It has been lodged by 37 residents who have been temporarily housed in transit camps on Richmond Farm, as well as Abahlali Basemjondolo – the South African shack dwellers movement. They want the mayor, city manager and head of housing to be held responsible, in their official and personal capacities, to be held in contempt of court for not complying with an order granted three years ago.
The Durban High Court order, granted in March 2009, compelled the municipality to correct the misallocation of houses designated to these residents at the Khulula Housing Project, by providing them houses of the project or to provide other houses commensurate to those in the project.
The municipality was also ordered to investigate the corrupt allocation, by its employees, of RDP houses in the housing project.
As it has been three years with no word from the municipality, the Socio Economic Rights Institute of South Africa’s (Seri) attorney for the families has filed court papers calling for them to comply with the eviction order and provide an outcome of the municipality’s investigation.
The municipality must also show what steps it has taken and will take in future, to comply with its obligation to provide permanent houses.
Should the municipality not comply, the residents would make an application for them to be held in contempt of court.
Abahlali Basemjondolo chairman, Sbu Zikode, said: “The corrupt allocation of housing in Durban has been a concern for Abahlali’s members for a long time. People are dumped in transit camps, told that it is just temporary and then left to rot while other people are allowed to jump the queue.”
He said the municipality was indirectly feeding this corruption by not following the more than two-year-old order.
City top brass could face jail time over Abahlali court order
By Anelisa Kubheka
The eThekwini mayor, the city manager and the city’s director of housing could face jail time or a fine for being in contempt of court.
Two years ago, the city was granted an order to evict residents of Siyanda informal settlement near KwaMashu, to make way for the construction of a road.
The order made a provision that the municipality had a year from the eviction to provide permanent homes for these residents.
To date, these residents, about 37 families, have been living under appalling conditions in a transit camp in Richmond Farm.
Abahlali Basemjondolo and the Socio Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) filed papers in the Durban High Court early last month, for mayor James Nxumalo, municipal manager S’bu Sithole and head of housing Cogi Pather to be held in contempt of court for not fulfilling the condition of the eviction order.
Abahlali Basemjondolo chairman, Sbu Zikode, said the order was granted in the municipality’s favour on the basis that the municipality would investigate the corrupt allocation of RDP houses, in the Khulula Housing project, by its employees.
“The corrupt allocation of housing in Durban has been a concern for Abahlali’s members for a long time. People are dumped in transit camps, told that it is just temporary and then left to rot while other people are allowed to jump the queue.”
He said the municipality was indirectly feeding this corruption by not following the two-year-old order.
SERI attorney, Teboho Mosikili, said the municipality’s duty was to uphold and respect the law but it had acted in a “blatantly illegal” manner.
“The mayor, city manager and director of housing have all been served with the court order, and meetings have been convened with the mayor to discuss compliance with it. Yet nothing has been done.”
According to their court papers, available on the SERI website, the rights group and Abahlali Basemjondolo seek an order against the Executive Mayor of eThekwini (Durban), together with two other senior officials, to carry out the municipality’s obligations listed in the eviction order.
“One of the conditions of the eviction order was that the occupiers would be provided with permanent housing within a year.
“The deadline for doing so expired almost two years ago and nothing has been done to comply with the order,” it read.
Zikode said they had served the court papers and were awaiting a response from the municipality.
At the time of going to press, municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng could not confirm whether or not they had received these papers.
Tenants protest against eviction
Desperate evicted tenants of Valley View housing complex in Hillary appealed to their landlord’s conscience on Tuesday.
This was during their demonstration outside the landlord’s offices on the Jan Smuts Highway under heavy police presence and private security.
The tenants were evicted from the partly goverment-funded housing early this month for unpaid rent, following protracted court battle with landlord Sohco, a non-profit company. The tenants claim they were wrongly evicted as the rental agreed on was not the same as the one that appeared on their leases.
“Most tenants who were evicted are single parents and most are women. When they evicted us, some of our children had already started writing exams. When they arrived at the flat and saw all those cops with guns, some of them just cried,” said one of the tenants, Nomfundo Mdluli.
She said the leases they had signed were blank, with no amount written in the space where the rental should have been. “After a month living in the flats, we had to demand our leases back and when we got these back, the rent price had been filled in ink. This was not the R850 that was agreed upon initially,” she said.
Mdluli said that after three months, the rent was increased and the tenants then decided to stop paying the rent to Sohco and deposit the R850 into a trust account until Sohco was able to explain the increase to them.
“When we questioned the blank leases we were signing, we were told that if we don’t want houses, we should step aside and let those who wanted them sign the leases,” she said.
“I was one of the people who knew nothing about the eviction… I got a phone call from my neighbours telling me that my stuff was being moved out of my place and that they were all sent SMSes about the eviction,” said Mdluli.
However, Sohco chief executive Heather Maxwell denied the allegations about the blank leases, saying that they were not even sure that the tenants who were demonstrating were those who had been evicted.
“Prior to anyone taking occupation, formal written leases stating the value of rentals due were signed,” she said.
Maxwell said a deposit and the first month’s rental had been paid in advance by everyone before occupation. Most tenants had paid rent for at least six months before being influenced to stop doing so.
“Formal written notice was delivered by the sheriff of the court to the evicted tenants,” she said.
Maxwell said Sohco had not been aware of the trust that the tenants were referring to until the company took the matter to court. She said the eviction was tested at the high court with appeal attempts at the Supreme Court, and the evictions were upheld.
The evicted Hillary Flats vigorously deny claims of intimidation and point out that being evicted at gun point, and kept out of your home at gun point, is clearly intimidatory.They argue that in fact social housing has been hijacked by private interests seeking private profit.
Evicted tenants try to reoccupy flats
Evicted tenants of Valley View in Hillary tried to reoccupy the block of flats at the weekend, but were stopped and escorted off the property by police and private security.
About 40 tenants were evicted after they allegedly failed to pay rent. This was after Sohco – a company partly funded by government subsidies that provides affordable rental flats – obtained a court order.
In protest against their eviction, the tenants have threatened to occupy Sohco offices in Jan Smuts Highway, Mayville, at 1pm on Tuesday.
According to one of the tenants, Ntombi Mpantsha, their attempt to move back was fuelled by sheer desperation and the hope that KwaZulu-Natal premier, Zweli Mkhize, would have intervened after a memorandum of their demands was handed to an official of his office last week.
Mpantsha said they had joined the march staged by Abahlali BaseMjondolo’s youth league and they had been under the impression that Mkhize had already had discussions with Sohco about the memorandum.
“It’s difficult, we are all squatting wherever people are willing to house us. As I speak to you, I have no idea where to go tonight,” she said.
KZN police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the tenants left the property peacefully after it was explained to them that the court order prohibited them from returning to the property.
Sohco’s CEO, Heather Maxwell, said when tenants moved into the flats an agreement and lease was signed, stating the monthly rent.
She said a large number of tenants had continued to pay rent in terms of their agreement with Sohco, despite intimidation from non-paying tenants.
“We trust that these evictions, as regrettable as they were, has sent out a clear message that Sohco will not be held to ransom by the actions of a minority intent on hijacking our development. Our mission of providing good quality, affordable housing is simply too important for us to allow that,” Maxwell said.
The premier’s spokesman, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, said the premier was currently consulting with all “internal stakeholders” to sort the matter out.
“He is currently speeding up process in human settlements so that this matter is resolved,” he said.