Shamita Naidoo, Sizwe Nkwanyana, Nigel Gibson, Lindo Motha – Motala Heights, May 2011
Monday, 04 April 2011
Mr. Butch Nunn
53 African Street Grahamstown
Dear Mr. Nunn
Re: Request for Clarification and Meeting
We are a movement of shack dwellers and other poor people. We are a democratic and membership based movement that is run by volunteers. We have a very strong branch in Motala Heights (also known as Motala Farm), in Pinetown, Durban and our members there include the residents of Lot 16.
We know that you have been in contact with one of the leaders in our Motala Heights branch who is also one of the residents of Lot 16. Our understanding of the situation as it relates to you and your law firm is as follows:
1. As far as our information is concerned, the owner of Lot 16 is the Family Trust created by the estate of the late Mr Mahomed Essop. The Executor of that trust was was Mr. Van Zyl. We had not heard of any changes of executorship until we contacted your office after receiving letters from your firm. We have been told that you are a lawyer that specialises in evictions and we assume that you were appointed as the legal representative for this trust because they are aiming to increase the market value of this land by evicting the 18 families (76 individuals) that are living on the land in self-built wood and iron houses. Some people have lived there for as long as 65 years. Many people who live on this land were born on that land and sometimes their parents and grandparents were also born on this land. You are probably not aware that this land falls under ESTA and not PIE so the chances of evicting these families through the courts are very low.
2. For many years a local property management company (it used to be known as Maxdales but it is now called Maxprop), has managed this land and collected the rent each month. The tenants have been paying their rent but according to our information the rates on this piece of land have not been paid to the Municipality for ten years.
3. Last week tenants on Lot 16 started to receive letters from your law firm. These letters were dated 10 March 2011, were not signed and carried no contact information for your firm aside from a street address in Grahamstown. These letters stated that:
• You act for the trust that owns the land.
• That local ‘businessman’ Ricky Govender has expressed concern at the unauthorised erection of new structures on the land.
• That Govender has expressed an interest in buying the land.
• That Govender has expressed his willingness to monitor illegal squatting on the land.
• That you have decided to fire Maxprop and employ Govender as the manager of the land who will monitor the tenants’ behaviour and collect their rent. Your letter states that “Mr.Govender resides near the property and is in a position to monitor illegal squatting” and that “the handing over of the control of the property to Mr.Govender has become a priority.” Govender’s appointment is effective from 1 April 2011.
4. However the fact is that while there was a new land occupation in Motala Heights at the end of last year that occupation was not on Lot 16. The new occupation is on Lot 18 which is land owned by the eThekwini Municipality. That land was occupied by long standing residents of Motala Heights who have been evicted from their homes and have nowhere else to go. They built their own houses on unused Municipal land for which there were no other plans. Govender has taken it on himself to police this occupation and has intimidated various people and tried to mobilise the municipality to destroy it. One partially built shack was destroyed but the others still stand. If Govender has told you that new homes have been built on Lot 16 he is lying.
5. Since the tenants of Lot 16 began to receive letters from your law firm a number of people have been in contact with you with a view to ensuring that you are aware of the history of Govender’s behaviour in Motala Heights. You have received telephonic and written correspondence in this regard which includes an international human rights report, documents from South African human rights organisations, media reports, court documents and statements from our own organisation. The behaviour on the part of Govender that has been drawn to your attention includes allegations of assault, issuing public death threats to activists and journalists, detaining people against their will (which is kidnapping), various attempts at unlawful evictions, serious intimidation, the deliberate dumping of toxic industrial waste right outside people’s homes, the unlawful destruction of a Shembe Temple and the bulldozing of land not owned by Govender (and the destruction of municipal infrastructure on that land). It has also been drawn to your attention that one of the people that Govender has previously assaulted and publicly threatened to have killed is a woman who lives on Lot 16. It has been put to you that Govender is entirely unfit to be appointed as the manager of Lot 16 with the power to police the tenants there. We would like to add that according to the Highway Mail Govender is now under investigation by the Municipality for bulldozing and trying to develop land that he doesn’t own. It is one thing when poor people occupy land to survive. It is another thing when a rich man tries to take over land that he doesn’t own just to make himself even richer.
6. On 1 April, the day that Govender’s appointment by yourself as the manager of Lot 16 became effective, the tenants did not pay him their rent. On the same day he began erecting a fence. That fence runs from Lot 16, owned by the trust that you represent, and on to Lot 18 , which is owned by the Municipality. Govender clearly has no right to fence in municipality land.
7. Govender is also saying that the butchery on Lot 16 will have to close as the land is zoned as ‘residential’. That butchery has been there since the 1950s and it has always been an important part of this community. Kader Akmad who owns it now always gives credit to the poor and many of us have often avoided going to bed hungry because of that butchery. Govender is lying once again. That land is in fact zoned as ‘residential and light commercial’. However the land where Govender has his warehouse for his glass and aluminium business is clearly zoned as ‘residential’ only. Govender’s supermarket also sells meat but there is no credit for the poor there.
8. This morning you have received, by fax, a letter signed by residents of Lot 16. They have indicated to you that they are not willing to pay their rent to Govender due to “the damages that he has done already” but that they are willing to pay it into your own trust account.
We would very much appreciate it if you could confirm, in writing, that our understanding of these events is correct.
If so we would very much appreciate it if you could let us know, in writing, if, in the light of all the information that you have received about Govender’s behaviour, you intend to continue with your appointment of him as the manager of Lot 16.
If you do intend to continue his appointment as the manager of Lot 16 then we would like to invite you to come to Durban. We are aware that Shamita Naidoo, the chairperson of the Motala Heights B Branch of AbahlalibaseMjondolo, and a resident of Lot 16, has already invited you to come to Durban. Your reply to her was that it would be too expensive for you to travel to Durban.
This problem can be resolved. The 18 families on Lot 16 can each put in R20 and buy you a bus ticket to come to Durban. If you are not willing to travel to Durban by bus we can ask our members in other settlements to each put in R10 and together we can buy you a ticket on Kulula.Com. That would take some time but if we need to move more quickly we could ask Bishop Rubin Phillip, who we work with closely here in Durban, if he can speak to Bishop Ebenezer Ntlali, who works closely with our comrades in the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown, to see if they can each sponsor one part of your travel to Durban and back.
We can accommodate you in Motala Heights or, if you prefer, we can ask if the church can arrange middle class style accommodation for you.
We would like you to meet with the residents of Lot 16, to share a meal there and to get to know the people on that land. We would also like to take you on a tour around the community so that you can meet various people that have been threatened and assaulted by Govender. We would like to introduce you to the people that he has illegally tried to evict and who remain in their homes but have suffered serious intimidation. We would also like to show you where he has bulldozed land that he doesn’t own and where he has fenced in land that he doesn’t own. We also want to show you the Shembe Temple that he destroyed. We could also try to arrange for you to meet with the journalists that have been intimidated by Govender.
While you are here we would also like to set up a meeting with the Tenants of Lot 16, the tenants of various other lots in which various different people are claiming to be the owners and demanding rent, the land owners (and people claiming to be land owners) and the eThekwini Municipality. There should be an open and public discussion about the way forward for Motala Heights and whether Govender or the people of Motala Heights should have the most influence in deciding that way forward.
There is another option that has been tried before. In 1996 the Municipality bought the land on which the Motala Heights shack settlement stands. We are going to suggest to the Municipality that they should also buy Lot 16. Families have been living there for generations. Their tenure security should be protected by the state and not put in the hands of a notorious and thuggish individual like Govender.
Sometimes when money is moved around people are also moved around. When money changes hands and some people get richer some people are also subject to violence, intimidation and homelessness. It is very important that we all have eyes to see the people whose lives are affected when decisions are taken about money. If you come to Durban then you will know what is really happening on the ground in Motala Heights. You will be able to meet the people whose lives will be affected by the decisions that you make. You will be able to see how your partner in business, Ricky Govender, has vandalized the community of Motala Heights. You will be able to be part of finding a better way forward – one that puts the dignity and safety of people before private profit.
We would appreciate a reply to this letter by Monday next week (11 April 2011). If you do intend to continue your business relationship with Govender, and to keep him as the manager of Lot 16 in Motala Heights, then we would appreciate it if you could give us a date before the end of the month on which we can arrange your trip to Durban and set up this meeting between the various parties.
Ms. Bandile Mdlalose, Ms. Shamitha Naidoo and Ms. Zodwa Nsibande for AbahlalibaseMjondolo Movement S.A.
Click here to see some photographs of this workshop.
Notes from the ABM workshop in Pinetown on Sunday, 27 February 2011
Speakers: Shamita Naidoo (Motala Heights) and Marie Huchzermeyer (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)
Shamita found out that most of the land at Motala Heights is owned by the eThekwini Municipality and the National Housing Board but the National Housing Board didn’t even know that they have the land at Motala Heights.
Years ago, some of the land was given to the poor to make a livelihood on that land but now some of these landowners are trying to make money from that land by renting it to others and asking for high rents.
The councilor says that Motala heights cannot be developed because it is on DMOSS land. [Note: DMOSS stands for “Durban Metropolitan Open Space System” and it was previously known as “eThekwini Environmental Services Management Plan” (EESMP). DMOSS land is important for biodiversity and environmental conservation more generally.]
Last month Ricky Govender, a notorious local business man, destroyed the Nazareth temple by grading the area, claiming that it his land.It is against the law to destroy any site of religious worship (but the temple at Motala Heights was destroyed anyway).
Shamita also found out that there was a decision already in 1986 that Motala Heights should be used for Housing. But despite this decision, development never happened. It is therefore important that communities don’t wait for development to happen or to wait until Abahlali leaders start fighting for it but each community must get active and take the issue in their own hands.
Motala Heights is a microcosm of the issues that most informal settlements face – threats of removal, pressures for land to be used for ‘more profitable’ purposes. We all need to learn from the experience Shamita shared. It seems that as soon as informal settlement communities struggle for permanent rights to land and for improved services, they make real enemies.
The Informal Settlement Upgrading Program has been designed for those situations where land has been occupied and used for other purposes than planned (according to the zoning of the municipality). The idea is that in these situations (that is: in informal settlements) in-situ upgrading is better than building RDP houses. In other words, the program acknowledges the importance of in-situ upgrading and the (national) Government’s aim is to upgrade 400,000 shacks by 2014 and every province had to commit themselves to their respective share. Originally, however, the National Housing Code 2004 stated as a goal that all shacks should be upgraded until 2014.
Obviously, 400,000 is only a small proportion of what is needed and the problem is that the poor are not included in deciding which settlements are prioritized in the upgrading. This is currently decided in a top-down process and provinces and municipalities will always choose those settlements that are easiest to upgrade, which means that it might not be the neediest ones.
Marie stresses that it is the merit of AbM that the Government committed itself to the upgrading, especially by successfully challenging the Slums Act, because in its decision, the Constitutional Court ruled that feasibility of in-situ upgrading (Chapter 13) must be checked before anything else can be done in an informal settlement. This means that eviction and relocation is not allowed unless in-situ upgrading is not possible.
However, in 2009 national Department of Housing re-wrote its Housing Code. What was Chapter 13 is now Part 4 of the 2009 Housing Code. This is available on www.dhs.gov.za. Unfortunately there is an important step backwards in the new upgrading program: in order to qualify for the ‘upgrading subsidy’, a number of formal conditions must be met. This is a step backwards because in the 2004 version, formal requirements could be suspended to the benefit all of the people who do not have IDs or other documents or for other reasons did not qualify for the subsidy. It used to be an inclusive area-based subsidy, rather than depending on the individual’s qualification for a housing subsidy,.
Another problem with the upgrading program is that municipalities use the promise of upgrading to prevent settlements growth by asking the community to prevent any new shacks to be added to the settlement or else there will be no upgrading at all. In this way, the community is easily divided and thereby weakened (as has happened in the recent case of the Hangberg settlement in Cape Town as well as earlier in Kennedy Road).
Marie asks the workshop participants how important it is to cater for growth when doing upgrading and the meeting agreed that it was important to consider especially the growth of the families that are already living there.
There are some people consultants who have suggested that informal settlement upgrading should be de-linked from the national housing subsidy and that municipal money should be used for the upgrading instead. It is then restricted to interim basic services and interim tenure rights. But the problem with that strategy is that in practice it translates into temporary solutions, not very different from being in a Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), with a certain level of basic services but still waiting for a permanent solution. The assumption in these proposals is that one day the households will move to formal housing. But there is little evidence that formal housing is rolled out in the right locations and at the right speed for this to be a promise in which people can put their trust.
The other problem is that municipalities are currently selecting a few settlements for this so-called ‘upgrading’, rather than applying the principle of investigating feasibility of permanent upgrading for every informal settlement as soon as possible. There still is a difficult struggle for most informal settlements against relocation and for in situ upgrading. This should not be the case.
Question regarding Intake view raised that they are also occupying the land that belongs to the private land owner. So they were asking if they could get the same maps as the Motala. Shamita advices them that she is willing to assist any community.
The workshop was then closed and Marie suggested that we need to have another such workshop to unpack some of the other issues further.
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
Tuesday 8 March 2011
The Intimidation of Grassroots Activists Continues in Kennedy Road and Motala Heights
At about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday the 20th of February Nozuko Hulushe, the chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Kennedy Road settlement, went to fetch water. She was accosted by a man that she had never seen before. He rudely and aggressively demanded to wash his face in her bucket of water and she refused. After she finished he washed his face at the tap and then insulted her and assaulted her.