A piece of plastic called home


A piece of plastic called home

by Haydée Bangerezako

Activists in the Ekurhuleni municipality are claiming that informal settlements on the mining belt are being unlawfully demolished as a “clean-up” operation for the 2010 World Cup Soccer event and in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of eradicating urban slums by 2015.

Since February, the Ekurhuleni municipality has been moving slum dwellers from informal settlements to extension 10 of Tsakane, a large township approximately 40km away from their original home. Residents of informal settlements, such as the Chris Hani Angelo Station and a section of Makause, also known as Roseacres, have been evicted from their homes, while ihabitants of three other settlements, Delport, Kanana Driefontein and Road Reserve, are due to be evicted soon. The recent evictions violate the communities’ constitutional rights and contravene the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation Land Act of 1998 (The PIE Act), with both specifying that people cannot be evicted without a court order, says Lisa Blass from ProBono.org, an organisation offering legal services to the community.

But the municipality says the mining belt area, where many informal settlements, including Makause and Chris Hani, are located, are dangerous because of the threat of floods, sinkholes and open mineshafts. It has evoked emergency provisions to move squatters. “There was no eviction, it was voluntary relocation,” says Aubrey Mokgosi, acting head of the department of housing in Ekurhuleni. However, people like Blass dispute this: “They [the municipality] have not come forward to the community to say: we’ve done a geophysical study,” says Blass, adding that the new land is literally “at the end of the road”.

Marie Huchzermeyer, of the Wits School of Architecture and Planning, also disputes the municipality’s motives. “They are abusing emergency provisions and using it as a pretext to remove people from strategic areas to places where they haven’t built homes and on the furthest outskirts,” says Huchzermeyer, adding that, according to international standards, communities should be relocated within a 5km radius of their original location. Portions of sections one, two and three of Makause were bulldozed, destroying 2 366 shacks and brick homes, after residents were only given 10 days’ notice.

The Red Ants led the removals, as well as the resettlement, which were conducted in the presence of the SAPS and the Metro police. The community says the move was far from smooth and the Red Ants brutalised them, looted their belongings and destroyed shacks, even when people protested against being moved or were not present. “They [the municipality] are bringing back the idea that black people belong in the townships. We are like a rubbish in town,” says “General” Alfred Moyo, a Makause committee organiser, whose shack was burnt after a protest march against the relocation in March.

Blass says that Ekurhuleni sent out various representatives to register people to be relocated, which the municipality has said is the equivalent of having been given consent. Mokgosi refutes the claim that consents were unlawfully obtained and says they were given in the presence of the police. The community filed two urgent applications in February to stop the demolitions and removals.

In the first application the court ruled that a consent order was needed to evict 181 community members, which was not observed by the municipality, says Michael K Dzai, chairperson of the Makause Business Forum. The second application sought the cessation of all demolition activities, but it was rejected by the court.

Upon their arrival in Tsakane, a treeless and dry landscape on an open veld, the new occupants found their new homes were made of four poles and plastic bags. “You can’t call a plastic a better place; you have no windows, no doors,” says Moyo, who has chosen to remain in Makause. The new homes are a far cry from the type of temporary shelter the laws provide for, says Blass. The design of the shelter should be stable and durable for the anticipated lifespan of the shelter. Under the law the grant for the provision of a shelter is R14 000.

Henry Njabuleseni Dlamini, a Makause community leader in Tsakane, who consented to the move after being convinced by the municipality that Makause was dangerous, is not happy with his new home. “We were told that we would find RDP houses here,” says Dlamini. “They [the Red Ants] took everything outside and threw it out. They said we are not serious, because if we were, we would have built our house by then,” says Mary, who was kicked out of her new “plastic” home in Tsakane and whose belongings were left outside because she had no material to rebuild her shack.

Eric van der Berg, from Bell Dewar Hall, a law firm representing the disgruntled Makause community, is planning to bring a common law application to court to return people to Makause and rebuild their homes. “This is based on the fact that they were moved without a proper valid court order and without their consent,” says Van der Berg. Ekurhuleni, like every municipality in South Africa, has produced its Integrated Development Plan document for 2005 to 2010, which maps the city’s future. Ekurhuleni’s goal is to move towards the creation of sustainable human settlements, a plan that involves the progressive eradication of informal settlements. Similar moves have been made in other municipalities in Gauteng.