A Set Back in Court: The struggle continues under difficult circumstances

Tuesday, 7 April 2020
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement

A Set Back in Court: The struggle continues under difficult circumstances

As we have detailed in a number of statements, and has been widely reported in the media, the Ekuphumeleleni and Azania settlements were subject to repeated violent evictions, all carried out without court orders, during last week. The evictions, which continued until Sunday, were carried out by the notorious Calvin and Family Security Services which repeatedly fired live ammunition at unarmed people resulting in a number of people suffering serious injuries. On one occasion Calvin and Family Security Services were accompanied by the army, who forced a journalist to leave the scene before an eviction was enforced. Residents were also forced, at gunpoint, to delete their video and photographic evidence of evictions and violent attacks on residents.

The eThekwini Municipality has a long history of carrying out violent evictions without court orders. These evictions have resulted in serious injuries, and death, and are just one part of a broader problem of entrenched violence within the area governed by the Municipality. A recent news report notes that the “eThekwini municipality in KZN has seen at least 140 [political] assassinations over the past 10 years”. This is a city in which the rule of law is routinely violated by various actors including the police, the anti-land invasion unit, private security, armed members of the ruling party and the izinkabi.

It is often impossible for our members to report unlawful behaviour to the police when it is perpetrated by the police, the anti-land invasion unit, private security, or members of the ruling party, especially when they are ward councillors or members of Branch Executive Committees. It is common for people trying to open cases with the police to be insulted, chased out of the police stations, assaulted or threatened with arrest. However, the police are not all the same and sometimes possibilities are opened, usually via struggle, for certain police officers to act with fairness.

On Sunday we were surprised and encouraged when Sibusiso Khwela, the ward councillor for Ekuphumeleleni was arrested for assaulting an elderly woman. There have been other occasions when breakthroughs have been made with the criminal justice system. For instance, in 2016 two ANC councillors were convicted for the 2014 assassination of Thuli Ndlovu, who was our chairperson in KwaNdengezi. But in general, the police see their role as supporting the ruling party and the Municipality rather than being neutral actors who apply the law without fear or favour. It is common, for instance, for the police to threaten, assault or arrest people on the instruction of ward councillors. Khwela has now been released after appearing in the Pinetown court but, although Khwela has tried to force the elderly woman to withdraw her complaint, the case remains open.

When challenged on unlawful and violent evictions the Municipality routinely responds that the shacks that it is demolishing are not occupied. Over the years we have won numerous cases against the Municipality by collecting detailed evidence in the form of photographs, affidavits and various kinds of documentary evidence that prove long term residence. Given our record of success over many years it would be a shock for us not to win a case.

On Monday we took the eThekwini Municipality to the High Court seeking to interdict them against continuing the ongoing evictions in the Ekuphumeleleni and Azania settlements. It was not an easy day for us and our team. Judge Moodley asked both parties to discuss the matter and find solutions on their own. We asked the City to allow us to rebuild the shacks that had been destroyed, and to allow us to rebuild them on the same land where they had been when they were destroyed.

The City refused and offered us alternative accommodation in the emergency camps set up at the Durban Exhibition Centre and Pinetown for homeless people during the Coronavirus crisis. Our members did not want to accept this for many reasons, including the fact that there was no guarantee that they would be able to return to the land on which they had been living, where they were part of a community, and which is close to where they work and their children are at school. They were also worried about the conditions in these camps, including difficulties in social distancing and the high percentage of people there with serious untreated addiction issues. Some of the women who had been evicted did not feel that these camps would be safe for them and their children. We are aware that today people forced into a similar camp for homeless people in Cape Town organised a protest at the conditions, including a lack of food as well as serious overcrowding that meant that social distancing was impossible, and were then attacked by the police with rubber bullets.

The City wanted us all to go on site to identify and verify people and their structures. But we said to our legal team that there is no point in doing that because people had already been evicted, and because the army was in occupation of the settlements and there was a climate of extreme intimidation.

Another issue on our side was that the Confirmatory Affidavits of the people who had been evicted were not commissioned as a result of lockdown. The City said that that they have commissioned their papers in police stations and that we should have been able to do the same in the same police stations. However, when our members attempted to approach the police stations for support they were chased away and threatened with arrest. The hostility from the police, as well as the fact that the lockdown makes it impossible for those of our members with extensive experience in preparing legal documents to move around, made it difficult for us to prepare for the court hearing as we usually would. The matter was adjourned for the day.

Today the court dismissed our application for an interdict. Our Senior Council (SC) Adv. Suleman argued that in fact even the evidence brought by the City showed that homes were occupied prior to the evictions. The photographs that we have shared of the evictions, which can be seen on our Facebook page, clearly show beds, mattresses, other furniture and a fridge amidst the remains of the shacks that were destroyed. However, Judge Moodley was not convinced that people were occupying the shacks that were destroyed.

It is very unusual for us not to win an application for an interdict against evictions but we are operating in very unusual circumstances that make it extremely difficult for us to prepare for the court hearing in the manner that we usually do.

We don’t yet have the written judgment and we will study it closely when we get it. We will also consult with our lawyers, and work out the best possible strategy for us to be able to continue to defend our rights in the courts during the lockdown. We will also continue to strategize about how we can organise against the shocking violence and cruelty that has been meted out by Calvin Family Security Services, and the serious intimidation from the army, during the lockdown. We cannot accept that people can be subject to state violence or made homeless under any circumstances, but state violence and evictions became particularly urgent during this time of a worldwide health crisis in which impoverished people are most at risk.

We are disappointed by the outcome in the court today, and very worried about what will happen as the lockdown continues. Calvin and Family Security Services are now parading at Ekuphumeleleni celebrating the finding of the court and hooting non-stop. They are being led by Khwela. People are really scared. They don’t know what will happen tonight, or tomorrow, or the next day. We all fear that there will be more violence.

We appreciate all the solidarity that we have received over the last week and ask all our comrades and the media to keep a close watch on what happens in the eThekwini Municipality as the lockdown continues. It is particularly important that a close watch is kept on Cllr. Khwela, Calvin and Family Security Services, and the army.

The situation in which we have suddenly found ourselves is very uncertain. In this lockdown we cannot use the streets or the courts in the way that have done so successfully during fifteen years of struggle against evictions. However, amandla remains ours. We will focus all our energy and courage on finding ways to keep organising in the face of violence from a gangster municipality.

The struggle for land, housing and dignity continues. We will not lose hope. Like a cadre in a war we will soldier on regardless of the situation.


Mqapheli Bonono 073 067 3274
S’bu Zikode 083 547 0474