The Times: Forced removals: 2014-style

Forced removals: 2014-style

Leonie Wagner

The eThekwini Municipality's apparent flagrant disregard for the law has resulted in it building RDP homes in people's back yards.

The eThekwini Municipality’s apparent flagrant disregard for the law has left families in the absurd situation of watching RDP homes being built in their back-yards before being occupied by strangers.

Last month, in anticipation of a new road being built, the municipality began demolishing homes and building RDP houses in Inanda’s eTafuleni township, north of Durban: some for the over 300 residents, others for people outside from the community.

According to residents, and their lawyers, the demolitions started without consultation – required by law – and in contravention of the Expropriations Act, which governs compensation for property.

The Department of Public Works started building the main road in 2012 and the municipality allegedly told the community that all homes would be demolished to make way for the road and a new housing development.

Two of the fifty families, many of whom have lived in the area for over thirty years, have already had their homes demolished while land has been taken from others without consultation or their consent.

This has caused anxiety within the community. Commenting on the offer of a RDP home, 31-year-old Zodwa Zondi said: “At the moment we are still confused, we don't know whether to take the RDP house. My mother [Lucretia Zondi] is feeling very bad, we feel like [the municipality] don't care about us.”

The Zondis are in a quandary because Lucretia, a 69-year-old pensioner, lives with her nine children and grandchildren in a six-bedroom house while the RDP home offered has only two bedrooms with no electricity or running water.

The offer also only extends to Lucretia, and not the rest of her family. The pensioner’s banana and avocado trees, which supplements her pension, will also be destroyed.

Most families have livestock, including chicken, goats and cows, which Zodwa says the municipality will not allow them to take to the RDP homes.

She alleged the municipality also told her family “if you earn more than R3 500 a month you don't deserve a RDP house”.

Last month other families were informed by municipal officials that the land they lived on would be used for the development.

Just over a week later, the families woke up to contractors excavating their land, without their permission, and clearing space for RDP houses. None of the families were informed as to who will occupy these RDP houses.

In some cases the RDP houses have no running water or electricity and people have to walk in the dark to mobile toilets provided by the municipality if nature calls at night. The toilets are shared between five families.

The families’ lawyers, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri), issued a letter of demand to municipal manager Sbu Sithole on July 9, asking him to furnish the court orders authorizing the demolitions, the notice of expropriation of land and a record of all engagement with the community regarding the project.

The letter raised concerns that the municipality may have acted illegally as there appears to have been no meaningful consultation about the housing project, including the furnishing of plans for the development, and residents were never informed of the legislation used to relocate them, which was done without a court order.

The letter also notes that property valuations were inconsistent with the Expropriations Act requirements and that homes were damaged because of the clearing of land for the RDP homes.

Seri has demanded that the municipality “stop all demolitions and threats of demolitions without complying with the provisions of the constitution and applicable legislation”.

The municipality has until July 18 to respond to the letter.

The municipality had, at the time of posting, not responded to questions submitted by The Times last Friday.