Siyanda Abahlali baseMjondolo Letter to the State Attorney

09 December 2008
Mr. B.M. Kunene
The State Attorney
391 Smith Street

Dear Mr. Kunene

We Siyanda Residents Will Not Be Leaving Our Shacks for Your Transit Camp Today

On Saturday 6 December 2008 the Sheriff of the court served us with your letter in which you demanded that 61 families leave our homes by 16h00 today and move to your transit camps.

Four families have decided to comply with your demand. The other 57 families, all members of the Siyanda Abahlali baseMjondolo branch, have decided to refuse to comply with your demand.

The reasons for our refusal are as follows:

1. We have land tenure in Siyanda. We were given certificates of tenure by Councillor Inba Naidoo just after 1994. We have these certificates. If you wish to remove us from land to which we have tenure in order to build your road then you will have to offer us compensation and you will have to provide us with adequate alternative houses. There is no compensation and there is no adequate alternative housing and therefore we will not go.

2. When you built a road through KwaMashu people in the brick houses got compensation after their houses were destroyed. Why are shack dwellers being treated differently to middle class people? Four families recently got compensation in the Kennedy Road settlement when their homes had to be demolished to build an access road for refuse and fire trucks. If Kennedy Road people can get compensation why not us? And it is not just our homes that you want to destroy. We all put money together to buy a long pipe so that we could have a tap. That pipe has already been destroyed by your Department without any consultation or compensation. The collective work of the community went into that pipe and you just destroyed like it meant nothing.

3. A transit camp is not a house. A transit camp is not fit for a human being. A transit camp is not and can never be an acceptable form of alternative accommodation for a human being. This is obvious to everyone. We are sure that none of the people in your department would ever accept being moved to a transit camp. Even the international human rights organisations agree. The Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions in Geneva recently wrote a letter to Mayor Obed Mlaba about Siyanda. They said that they “condemn the existence of so-called ‘transit camps’, which are found to be highly inadequate and serve to destroy the already fragile socio-economic fabric of people’s lives.”

4. Now that we are refusing to leave our homes officials in your department are telling our lawyers that the transit camps will be temporary. We have never been told, not verbally and not in writing, where we will go after the transit camp and when we will leave the transit camp. In fact when we were first told that we had to go to the transit camps we were only told that we mustn’t worry because they can last 30 years. As far as we know we could die there. For as long as we do not have a legally binding written agreement stating when we will leave the transit camps and where we will go we will not consider them to be temporary. Verbal promises about this from your department will count for nothing. Your department have lied to us from the beginning and broken every promised made to us. We have very good reasons not to trust you.

5. We did not apply for RDP houses. We were happy with our own homes on our own land. Your department decided to move us from our homes to RDP houses. You decided to move 570 families from Siyanda to make a space for your road. The first problem was that this 570 left out the renters which was really not fair – they are often the poorest people. You divided the 570 into three groups. The first group were relocated to RDP houses in Mount Moriah. The second group were relocated to RDP houses in Ntuzuma. We are part of the third and last group of 313 families. We were all promised RDP houses in the Kalula Housing Project here in Siyanda. But only 252 families got houses. The remaining 61 families did not receive the promised houses because they were fraudulently sold to people from outside Siyanda. We hold Nthuthuko Zulu from your Department, as well as Duke Ngcobo from the eThekwini Municipality, responsible for this fraud. As we said in our memorandum to the MEC for Housing after our recent march Zulu is also the one who tried to offer a family an RDP house in exchange for their daughter. We have complained about this fraud through every channel. We have marched and protested against this fraud. The Municipality said that they will do some research about the fraud but we all know who did it and which people got our houses fraudulently. At the last meeting the Municipality said that their research showed that there had been fraud and that they will correct that. Therefore they must correct it and give the houses to us, the people who were promised them. We cannot accept to have our homes demolished and to be moved to a transit camp with no guarantees of when we will leave and where we will go while other people sit in the houses promised to us. We want the houses that were promised to us. We cannot accept that the promise of house has been downgraded to a place in a transit camp.

6. Your information about us is full of mistakes. Your letter starts by saying that you want to force 66 families into your transit camp but you only list 61 families. The first person listed in your letter is Precious Mhlongo. You are saying that she must vacate her home today and move to the transit camp but Precious Mhlongo moved to the Kalula Project, upstairs, more than a year ago. There are many other mistakes on your list. People can’t accept that the government will take such important decisions for them when the government is working with basic information that is completely wrong. You need to get your information right and then talk to us – instead you are getting your information wrong and then just assuming the right to tell us what to do with our lives.

If you respond to this announcement of our refusal to obey your instruction and to leave our homes by trying to demolish our homes unlawfully, as happened in C section of Siyanda earlier this year, we will immediately go to court to interdict you against demolishing our homes without an order of the court. We will also mobilise all our people, and our comrades elsewhere, to rush to the scene to oppose the eviction.

If you respond to this announcement by going to court to seek an order to have our homes demolished then we will stand up for truth and justice in court. We have very good arguments about your fraud, your lies, your failure to consult, your failure to give any guarantees about the next step after the transit camps and the fact that transit camps can never be an acceptable form of accommodation for human beings. We will be happy to have the opportunity to tell our story to the judge.

If you respond to this announcement by requesting negotiations we would like to say that we have always wanted to negotiate with the government and your department. But all the meetings we attended since 2004 were not for negotiating – they were for you to give us instructions. But we accepted the promises that you made. But all the promises that you made to us were broken! You violated us. We do not trust that you will be honest in any future negotiations. You did not just break your promise that we would all be housed in the Kulula Project. There have been lots of other broken promises. For instance you promised that each family would get one of the four room double story houses house in the Kalula Project but then you put two families in each house.

However we have seen all the progress made in the negotiations between Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Municipality on upgrading and servicing 14 settlements. We are prepared to negotiate with your department under the following conditions:

• There must be an independent and credible mediator who is respected and trusted by both sides.
• We must be given time to tell our story.
• We must be taken seriously.
• All agreements reached in the negotiations must be written, legally binding and public.

We await your response. Please respond to us via the Abahlali baseMjondolo office.

The Siyanda Abahlali baseMjondolo branch