Solidarity: 11 arrests as the Siyathuthuka settlement (Durban) resists evictions

Police fire rubber bullets
Chaos as shack dwellers go on rampage

The Mercury

October 05, 2007 Edition 2


Chaos erupted in Durban’s Sea Cow Lake area yesterday as police clashed with informal dwellers, who were burning tyres and logs in an illegal protest.

The protesters would not allow people to go to work.

The protest, during which roads were blockaded, was sparked by the demolition of the informal residents’ shacks by the Housing Department and the municipality.

A representative of the Siyathuthuka informal settlement, Freedom Mncama, said before he was arrested with about 11 others: “We have been living here for 13 years, but they are demolishing our homes without giving us alternative accommodation. We have children here. Where must they go?”

Mncama said that some shacks were demolished two weeks ago and the municipal shack demolishing unit had on Wednesday marked more shacks with red crosses to be demolished.

Another shack dweller, M’du Mboyise, said he understood that they were wrong to take the law into their own hands.

“We were wrong in our approach, but why did they have to arrest us and shoot us, because we did not assault any police officer or threaten them? We are also people, but we are being treated like animals,” he said.

Residents of the area said the informal dwellers began burning tyres, picketing and shouting slogans at about 6am.

They complained that the angry mob, whose members carried knobkierries and other traditional weapons, would not let people past them to go to work.

“They were very threatening and wouldn’t let any one through. We understand that they have grievances, but why do they have to inconvenience us too? Our children did not go to school, but theirs did because they could walk through,” said a resident.

Police Supt Muzi Mngomezulu said police were dispatched to the area to control the situation. “Police went to the area and the 11 arrested have been charged with public violence,” he said.

Mngomezulu said the protesters were warned several times by the police to disperse, because they were holding an illegal gathering, but they responded by throwing stones and fuelling the fires on the road.

The police retaliated by firing rubber bullets. One protester was seen with a wound to the head.

KwaZulu-Natal Housing Department spokesman Lennox Mabaso said officials would have to investigate the matter and get details of circumstances from the eThekwini Municipality before any decision or action was taken.

“We want to reiterate that it is illegal to erect new shacks at this stage, because it contravenes the Prevention of the Emergence of Slums Act, which states that, as from October 1, any shacks erected would be considered illegal.

“The only shacks recognised are those that were identified before the Act came into being,” he said.


Sunday Tribune (Herald Supplement)

Residents caught up in protest chaos

October 07, 2007 Edition 1

Doreen Premdev

Protesting shack dwellers held families hostage in their homes in Sea Cow Lake this week.

Terrified home owners barricaded themselves in as shack dwellers blocked the roads leading out of Boxwood and Crow Place with burning tyres, knocking down lampposts and setting them alight in protest against the eThekwini Municipality’s threat to demolish “illegal” shacks on Thursday.

A resident, who did not want to be named, said by 8am on Thursday, crowds from the informal settlement had gathered on the roadside and clouds of black smoke billowed from burning tyres.

“Some of my neighbours leaving for work were stopped. It was scary and we could not understand what was going on. We were scared that they would turn on the residents.

“People went back into their homes and locked themselves in, waiting for the police to arrive. The protesters continued to riot on the roadside.”

Silindile Sikhosana, who has lived in the informal settlement for eight years, said the shack dwellers were desperate.

“These people just did not know what to do or where to go. They have families and would be left homeless if the municipality destroyed all their homes. As it is, we struggle to survive here.

“The protest was not meant to get violent, but emotions were running high and some of the protesters may have got out of hand,” said Sikhosana. “Although the shacks were not destroyed, the municipality will be back tomorrow to bring them down. And these people will be left homeless.”

Greenwood Park police spokesman Insp Elvis Naidoo said the 400-odd protesters had become violent and police had used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse them. Naidoo said eight people had been arrested and charged with public violence, illegal gathering and assaulting a police officer.
“Police had to calm the crowds down, as some of them started to get violent. It is understandable as this is a sensitive issue. However, we need to find an amicable solution.”

A meeting was held at the Greenwood Park Police Station on Friday afternoon to discuss a way to settle the conflict between the illegal shack dwellers and the municipality.

Housing department head Couglan Pather said that, in keeping with the provincial Slum Clearance Act, the municipality did not allow the building of new shacks, and these had been targeted.

“The old shacks can stay until we can find low-cost housing to accommodate these people,” Pather said.

“The municipality monitors the shacks by numbering them. Field workers also go out and regularly monitor these settlements. The municipality will take down only new structures.

“There are 160 000 shacks in the city and there is a 10-year plan to get rid of them and provide low-cost homes,” Pather said.

“But this will be impossible if the shacks continue to mushroom. People have been waiting on the housing list for many years and the city is trying its best to keep to its promise and deliver these homes.”