Gangster Landlord Assaults Woman Activist and Threatens Twenty Families with Eviction


Gangster Landlord Assaults Woman Activist and Threatens Twenty Families with Eviction in Motala Heights, Pinetown.

On 5 August at 1:00pm – the first week of Women’s Month – landowner and known gangster, Mr. Ricky Govender, assaulted a woman activist from the Motala Heights branch of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. He threatened to have her killed for R50. A neighbour, who attempted to peaceably intervene, was struck in the face. Later that evening at 6:30pm, the landowner accompanied by two other men sought out the woman activist in her home. He demanded that she cease her struggle for fair housing in her community.

Following the afternoon assault, the woman activist and her neighbour attempted to lay a charge of assault against Govender at the Pinetown police station, at 3:00pm. She was told that a case would not be opened, that she did not have a ‘legitimate complaint’ and the officer refused to give a case number. Under threat of legal action, she finally received a case number. She planned to go court in Durban today to get a restraining order but was not able to get to court as she had to be rushed to hospital with severe stomach pains.

It is widely alleged by Motala residents and Abahlali activists, almost all of whom are too terrified to speak out in their own names, that Govender has family members and influential contacts in the police, the Pinetown courts, as well as the local council and in particular with the local ward councillor, Cllr Dimba who shack dwellers in Motala Heights have in the past accused of personally threatening them at gunpoint. Indeed, though requests for meetings with Abahlali and Motala residents have repeatedly been denied, local PR councillor, Mr. Nayanjee, frequently visits Mr. Govender’s large two-story brick house – including on the day of the assault.

In this month alone, Mr. Govender has not only assaulted a female Abahlali activist, but has also threatened to evict at least twenty families. In Motala, largely Indian residents live in “low cost” commercial housing units built by Govender and in self built tin houses, while mostly African residents live in self built shacks or jondolos. The tin houses, like shacks, are self-made structures without municipal approval. Govender has been buying up the lots on which the tin houses are being built and is now telling people to leave their homes by the end of the month at which point he will have them bulldozed.

For instance on 30 July, 2007, an Abahlali activist in a tin house – who has lived on the same lot for decades – was issued a verbal notice of eviction by the landowner. The reason cited was contamination of the landowner’s swimming pool by dust from the activist’s backyard garage. The activist was warned that if he does not leave the lot by 31 August, bulldozers will destroy his self-made house. The activist also was told to end his “trouble making” involvement with Abahlali baseMjondolo.

Twenty other families in commercial “low-cost” housing built by Govender have been issued a written one-month eviction notice. These houses are falling apart and are causing serious health problems. Letters from “The Govender Family Trust” state that they will be evicted in one calendar month, unless they announce their intention to buy the house and property at the ludicrously exorbitant cost of between R499 000 to R550 000.

Govender has sent numerous eviction notices in the past, particularly in 2005. In December last year, working with Cllr Dimba, he sought to demolish all the shacks in Motala. When an Abahlali activist showed the local police a lawyers’ letter to Mayor Obed Mlaba indicating that the evictions were illegal he was assaulted and told that ‘Govender is the only mayor here’. As with the written and verbal notices of eviction this month, the landowner never secured a court order, nor followed any other legal procedures outlined for eviction. The evictions were eventually stopped by Abahlali activists – with the help of their lawyer – who eventually convinced local police that the evictions violated the Prevention of the Illegal Evictions Act (PIE). This was reported on the front page of UmAfrika.

Residents have long feared Govender as a powerful businessman and known gangster. He owns much of the land, the shopping centre, the butchery, the pub, the bottle store, and among other things, a glass and aluminium factory. Abahlali activists have obtained photographs of a dumping site, located on a ridge above a small shack settlement and next to several tin-roofed houses. The landowner is alleged to use industrial trucks to dispose glass, aluminium, chemicals and organic materials on the dump site. He occasionally burns these materials, which has affected the health of nearby residents. Additionally, the dump is spilling over the side of the ridge onto the shacks below, where at least ten families with small children live. In some instances people claim that toxic materials have been dumped right up against their houses in a deliberate attempt to force them out.

Activists note that the landowner has made life particularly difficult for women in Motala, and that this month – dedicated to celebrating women in South Africa – is a bitter reminder. This week, the landowner bulldozed several gum trees on the lot of one woman resident, without informing her. She found that the bulldozing caused the toilets to sink into the ground and the collapse of her water main, to which the landowner responded that he owned the land and could do what he likes. She remains today without access without water.

He has made threatening phone calls to two women Abahlali members, physically threatened another late last year when he passed her walking on the road and has repeatedly told one woman to cease taking photographs in the area and on his properties for the Abahlali website and tore down her pamphlets for Abahlali meetings. Further, on the evening of the assault, when the landowner came to the woman activist’s house, he demanded that she hand over a camera and told her husband to “give her more cleaning and housework so that she would stop trouble-making.”

Among other allegations made by activists and residents, it is reported that:

• The landowner is involved with vehicle theft, arson, and robbery and of using all of these tactics to intimidate the community. He also has allegedly been charged with fraud and the illegal use of electricity, incurring a R40 000 fine from the municipality.
• In the past, he has attempted to provoke division between African shack-dwellers and Indian residents in the tin-roof houses and “low cost” houses, many of whose families have lived together for over fifty years. He asked Indian families to put their names and ID numbers on what he called a housing allocation list. Only later did residents find that their names were not put on a list for housing, but a petition to evict African shack-dwellers.
• Residents have pled to local police and councillors to intervene in the situation that is growing increasingly tense in Motala, but their requests have been repeatedly refused. In many instances they have been told to take their concerns to Ricky Govender. Many fear that speaking out will result in violence.

The poor residents of Motala Heights have resolved to boycott all of Govender’s businesses.

Wa thint”abafazi wa thint imbokodo!

Contact Information:

Louisa Motha

Shamita Naidoo

James Pillay

Mnikelo Ndabankulu

S’bu Zikode

UPDATE: Click here to see the Highway Mail article following this press release and here to see what happened to the Mercury when they tried to take some pictures in Motala Heights… (Update: The attempts to keep the media out of Motala Heights have continued since this incident but click here to see what the Mail & Guardian found when they managed, not without some attempt at intimidation, to do a story.)

Further update:Four shacks burnt down in Motala Heights on Sunday 9 September. As usual in Motala Heights Govender seems to assume that the right to determine the fate of the victims of the fire rests in his hands…Click here to read more and and here to see the pictures.

Also see section III of Report on Public Participation Exercises For: “The Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Bill” for an account of the two visits of Tim Jeebodh to Motala Heights.

The struggle against gangster landlordism in Motala Heights, and the complicity of the local police is not new and there is much documentary evidence in this regard. For instance a letter to the Pinetown Town Engineer from Mr. B. Pillay (who has now been told by Ricky Govender that his house will be bulldozed if he is not out by the end of August) dated 25th August 1986 complains that: “The Landlord’s sons have come into my house threatening my family with Pangas, and adding to this they swear at us, smoke drugs and drink in excess. I was advised to advise the police of this matter, which I have duly done so. The result of this, I was advised to move to another premises and live elsewhere.”

Below is an archive of pictures and text produced from within the Motala struggle since the poor residents joined Abahlali baseMjondolo in early 2006.

Press Releases from Motala Heights

*Corruption and Armed Intimidation as Motala Heights Eviction Crisis Deepens, 20 June 2006.
*Motala Heights Eviction Crisis Continues, 30 June 2006.
*Motala Heights Eviction Crisis, Press Release 4, 21 August 2006.
*Shacks Demolished at Motala Heights, Pinetown, 29 October 2006
*Major Crisis as eThekwini Municipality Violently and Illegally Evicts Shackdwellers in the Motala Heights Settlement, 5 November 2006
*Victory for the people of Motala Heights, 13 December 2006
*Gangster Landlord Assaults Woman Activist and Threatens Twenty Families with Eviction, 8 August, 2007
*Four shacks Burn Down in Motala Heights, 10 September 2007

Pictures from Motala Heights

*Ricky Govender gets his demolitions at Motala Heights (3 years ahead of the City’s schedule), 31 October, 2006
*At the High Court for the Motala Evictions Case, 22 November 2006
*Motala Heights on 12 December 2006 – the day before an eviction
*SAPS stop Municipality workers from demolishing shacks, 13 December 2006
*Shack cinema, Motala Heights 11 March 2007
*iPolitiki ePhilayo: Motala Heights Development Committee AGM, emZabalazweni, Motala Heights Settlement, 20 May 2007
*Motala Heights, 2 August 2007. The day after Govender promised to bulldoze Uncle Jame’s house by the end of the month
*Motala Heights, Meeting Against Evictions 4 August 2007
*“Motala Heights Indian Shacks” – pictures by Shamita Naidoo, taken first week of August, 2006
*“The morning after 4 tin shacks burnt in Motala Heights, 9 September 2007

Newspaper articles on Motala Heights

*Isolezwe, 30 October 2006 Bathi abayi ezindlini abakhelwe zona
*Mercury, 30 October 2006: Council vows to get rid of shack dwellers
*Mercury, 30 November 2006: Shack dwellers win court order against municipality
*Highway Mail, 17 August 2007: We Won’t Go
*Mercury, 4 September 2007: Photographer was threatened,
Police rescue news team after fracas

*Highway News, 11 September 2007: News team threatened for shack story
*Highway Mail, 14 September 2007: Homes in Ashes
*Mail & Guardian, 21 September 2007: ‘They can pack up and go’.
*Highway Mail, 24 September 2007: No assistance for Motala Heights fire victims.
*Mercury, 8 October 2007: Court halts landlord’s threats.

Legal Documents on Motala Heights

*Affidavit on the Founding of Motala Heights by Bheki Ngcobo
*PDF copy of letter from the Legal Resources Centre to City Manager Sutcliffe, 23 November 2006
*PDF copy of court order preventing further demolitions in Motala Heights (29 November 2006), Letter from the Legal Resources Centre to the Pinetown SAPS (11 December 2006) and a letter from the LRC to the city’s lawyers (12 December 2006)
*Interdict preventing Ricky Govender from bulldozing the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pillay and from threatening or assaulting them, 28 September, 2007

Other Documents

*Facing Uncertainty with Unity: Lives and livelihoods of shack dwellers in Motala Farm by Lisa Fry, late 2006
*Comments by people who resisted evictions in Motala Heights in December 2006, document drawn up in early 2007
*Report on Public Participation Exercises For: “The Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Bill” (See section 3 for an account of the two visits of Tim Jeebodh to Motala Heights.
*Freedom of Expression Institute statement that makes reference to Govender’s death threats to journalists

Various documents on New eMmaus

New eMmaus is just over the hill from Motala Heights and is not under the control of Govender. However the two areas share, in part, a common history as people who were evicted from land owned by the Catholic Church live in both New eMmaus and Motala Heights. (Their ancestors came to the Marianhill Monastery as converts – they were evicted when the monastery sold land off for factories to be developed).

*New eMmaus Cracks, Press Release, 3 October 2006.
*New eMmaus Cracks – photographs, 3 October 2006.
*Emmaus residents fall into housing cracks, Sunday Tribune article, 22 October 2006.
*Abahlali to Mourn UnFreedom Day 2007 & Celebrate the Strength of the Strong Poor in New eMmaus, 27 April, 2007.
*Pictures of the UnFreedom Day Celebration in New eMmaus, 27 April, 2007.

Please note: Shamita Naidoo also has in her possession a collection of important archival documents on the history of Motala Heights and there is also a rich oral history which is well known by people like Lousia Motha (who has lived her whole life there) but which has not been documented in written form.