The SOHCO Owned River View Flats in Cato Manor Have Just Been Occupied

1 January 2014 3:30 a.m.

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement

The SOHCO Owned River View Flats in Cato Manor Have Just Been Occupied

The River View Flats in Cato Manor have just been occupied. The 350 flats in this block are owned by SOHCO, a social housing company, and were standing empty after the residents were all evicted in November. The security guards shot at the occupiers with rubber bullets. The police have arrived. Ten comrades have been arrested and taken to KwaKito (the Cato Manor police station).

Our movement has organised a number of land occupations over the years. This is the first time that we have occupied a block of flats. We have renamed the River View flat occupation as Amandlethu Village.

Among the comrades who have organised the occupation of these flats tonight are those who were evicted from these flats in November 2013 and those who were first evicted from their shacks in Cato Manor in March 2013 and who then opened and occupied a new section of Cato Manor called Marikana. Since then they have been illegally and violently evicted from the new occupation nine times including, most recently, on 23 December 2013. Three comrades have been murdered during this struggle, two others have been shot and many have been arrested and assaulted.

We have not undertaken this action lightly. We have occupied these flats because they are standing empty while people are homeless. We have occupied these flats because the people violently evicted from these flats by SOHCO in November remain homeless. They have not been given alternative accommodation as required by the law. We have occupied these flats because people living in the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Manor continue to be intimidated and evicted. We have occupied these flats because when people are evicted they are just told to ‘go back to where you came from’ or to ‘go back to Lusikisiki’. We have occupied these flats because our attempts to negotiate with SOHCO, the organisation that built and owns the River View flats, have been frustrated at every turn. SOHCO prefers to show us to the world as criminals and sends in armed men to throw us out of our homes. We have occupied these flats because the ANC and the police are killing activists in Cato Manor instead of negotiating with us. Like SOHCO they show us as criminals instead of citizens. We have also occupied these flats as a clear declaration of our intent to make 2014 a year of change. We will continue to escalate our struggle until the Municipality agrees to work with all democratic poor people’s organisations to build a city for all. This will require an end to repression, serious and effective action to be taken against corruption and for the social value of land and government housing to be put before its commercial value.

If the City or a private landowner refuses to negotiate with us we will first organise a legal march and hand over a memorandum. If that memorandum is ignored we will then organise road blockades to force an answer to our memorandum and to force our oppressors to the negotiating table. We will also consider the occupation of relevant offices. If we are repressed we will organise simultaneous road blockades across the city during peak hour traffic. If people are left homeless we will occupy unused land or unused buildings owned by government or so-called public-private partnerships like Sohco. For years we have warned that if politicians and officials refuse to negotiate with us we will go to the streets and the courts, and that if these tactics fail we will take direct action to access land and housing and to force our oppressors to negotiate with us. We have called this Plan B. If the City refuses to negotiate with us, if they do not act against corruption and if they continue with repression we will continue to blockade roads and to occupy unused government land and housing. This is our New Year’s Resolution.

Social housing, a partnership between government and private investors, has been a complete failure in Durban. Social housing has not been run democratically and in the interests of the poor and the working class. It has been run in a highly authoritarian way and for the profit of the rich. One of the biggest investors in so-called social housing in Durban is the notoriously corrupt Jay Singh. He and his wife Shireen Annamaly have, like S’bu and Shawun Mpisane, become hugely rich from public housing in Durban. Public housing in this city is not run for the poor and the working class. It is run like a mafia operation between politicians and tenderpreneurs in order to make them rich and to reward those who are loyal to the ANC.

Jay Singh has so-called social housing projects in Phoenix, Chatsworth, Newlands and KwaMashu. Regulations were not adhered to in these developments, the homes have all kinds of structural defects, people were first told that they were buying and later that they were renting and rents were unaffordable. Some were then illegally sold. The Phoenix Tenants and Residents’ Association has been struggling against Singh and his mafia. On 3 December 2013 one of Singh’s developments was occupied in Newlands West by residents of the transit camps in Castlehill Road and Newlands Road.

Sohco has three blocks of flats in Durban. There is River View in Cato Manor, Ridge View in Hillary and Port View in Albert Park. The company was getting a government subsidy and rents from residents. In all three of these blocks of flats the residents have had to go on rent strikes. Rent strikes are a well-known way for tenants to try and force landlords to the negotiating table. They are used around the world. A rent strike, like a strike at a work place, is not a criminal action. It is a form of struggle. It is a form of politics that is used when there is no willingness to negotiate. Our movement has used rent strikes before, e.g. against the gangster landlord Ricky Govender in Motala Heights in Pinetown. The residents of these three Sohco buildings went on rent strikes because Sohco would not negotiate with them on their concerns. The concerns included unaffordable increases in rents, a refusal to repair the serious problems in the flats (including cracks and leaks) and the fact that people were first told that this was rent to own and then suddenly that it was changed to rent for life. In River View there were monthly rent increases. Sohco refused to negotiate and just said that those that couldn’t afford the increases must leave.

The legal route was tried in Ridge View and River View without success. In River View residents spent all their savings on a private lawyer and were left bankrupted. Rights on paper don’t help in reality when trying to access those rights leaves people bankrupt. The River View residents went to their councillor, Bhekisisa Mngadi. He is not a gangster councillor. He acknowledged the problems with Sohco and told the Daily News that “These are our people not dogs.” However Mngadi was threatened by SMS by senior people in the City. He showed these threats to the residents. He phoned a senior person in Human Settlements and put her on speaker phone. She did not know that she was on speaker phone and said that “these people will just make fools of themselves if they march”. When the residents approached the Department of Human Settlements directly they refused to help. They just said that the residents must accept the eviction and go peacefully. Two residents were mandated to go and meet with Jacob Zuma. He met with them. Zuma told them that he could not help them because they had made a mistake by associating with Abahlali baseMjondolo. He said that they must only take their problems to the ANC.

Sohco has evicted residents from all three of its buildings in Durban. The Valley View residents were evicted on 1 November 2011. The first attempt to evict the River View residents in Cato Manor on the 2nd September 2013 was repulsed after residents set up a huge barricade of burning tyres. However the residents were successfully evicted on 18 November 2013. Once again a barricade was set up. When it was clear that the police, private security and red ants were going to try and breach the barricade it was set alight. Fire hoses were used to push the barricade back onto the protestors and two people were badly burnt. A lady who was burnt, Sibongile Dlamini, was admitted to hospital and then arrested and charged with public violence even though she had been very badly injured and had not harmed anyone else.

There was a court order authorising this eviction but the eviction was not carried out lawfully. Residents were not even given a copy of the order.

The people evicted in River View were working for the City, for the government and in places like Game and Pick’n’Pay. After the eviction some people had to leave Durban. Others slept in their cars. Children had to leave school. Many people lost their jobs. People lost their things, including certificates and photographs. Everyone was traumatised by the eviction. Everyone was stressing. People couldn’t eat. One woman had to go to her boyfriend for a place to stay. She found that he had another woman in his bed but she had to accept to sleep on the floor. She was asked why she accepted this insult to her dignity. Her reply was that she couldn’t afford dignity anymore.

The people who were evicted were very angry at the government, at the ANC and at Jacob Zuma. The residents concluded that this country is not a democracy and that the government is an ANC government and not a people’s government. They concluded that the ANC has failed them.

Sohco claims that it has had to evict the residents at all three of its Durban flats because they are all criminals trying to ‘hijack’ buildings. It cannot explain why residents have felt that they had to go on rent strikes in all of their buildings to try and force Sohco to negotiate or why in every building residents have exactly the same set of complaints against this company. Some newspaper reports have just repeated Sohco’s attempts to criminalise residents without making any effort to get the resident’s stories or to find out who is making money, and how, from Sohco developments. Others have been better and have spoken to residents as well as to Sohco and the police.

The government is always trying to separate the poor from the working class and the middle class. In Clare Estate we have made an alliance with the middle classes in the Ratepayers’ Association to work together to demand a Clare Estate for all. In Cato Manor we have united the poor and the working class in this occupation. The comrades from the Marikana Land Occupation are supporting this occupation because they know what it is like to be evicted, because they have lost faith in this corrupt government, because the law is not working for them and because they need houses. The comrades in the Marikana Land Occupation have survived serious repression because they are united. The residents evicted by Sohco in Hillary (Ridge View) were defeated because they were divided. The residents of River View have learnt a good lesson from the experiences of the Ridge View residents and the residents of the Marikana Land Occupation. They will stand firm with the same unity and courage as the residents of the Marikana Land Occupation. We are committed to running all of our occupations, including land occupations and housing occupations, on a democratic basis with elected leaders, the right to recall leaders and open mass meetings. We are committed to having women in leadership, including young women, in all levels in our movement. Most of the key organisers in this occupation are young women.

We have prepared a detailed report on corruption and the illegal evictions and repression in Cato Manor which we will soon submit to Thuli Madonsela. We will also prepare and submit a report to the Public Protector on the total failure of social housing in Durban and how it has been corrupted.

Some of our members grew up with the story of the women’s struggle in Cato Manor in 1959. We have members whose mothers were part of that struggle. Cato Crest and the River View flats are both part of Cato Manor, of Umkhumbane. The River View flats look on to the Umkhumbane River. The ANC tells us that the women who lead the struggle against evictions in Cato Manor in 1959, women like Florence Mkhize and Dorothy Nyembe, are heroes. But when Abahlali women demand land and housing, safety and dignity then they are criminals. We are sure that the apartheid state called Florence Mkhize and Dorothy Nyembe criminals too. But they lived in the people’s hearts as heroes just as the women leading the struggle in Cato Manor today live in our hearts as heroes. We see a clear connection between the heroes of 1959 and the heroes of today. We also see a clear connection between the white boers of apartheid and the black boers of today. The struggle for Umkhumbane continues. The women’s struggle in Umkhumbane continues. The struggle to make Durban a city for all continues. The struggle to make sure that land, cities, wealth and power in South Africa are shared fairly continues.

We remain willing to negotiate. But when our requests to negotiate are denied and we are met with evictions and repression we will take direct action to disrupt, to occupy and connect.

We send our new year’s greetings to all our comrades around South Africa and around the world. Let us make 2014 the year in which we all recognise our own strength to take forward our struggle to ensure that the dignity of all people is respected, that we all have the same right to govern our societies and that the hold of the politicians and the capitalists over the land, cities and wealth of this world is broken.


Nono 074 803 1986

Ndabo 072 401 5974

Bandile 084 557 5090

S’bu 083 547 0474