Six Families Under Threat of Eviction in Motala Heights

20 April 2008
Press Statement from the Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo Branch

Six Families Under Threat of Eviction in Motala Heights

One of the homes where people are threatened with eviction.

In 2006 the eThekwini Municipality illegally and violently tried to evict all the shack dwellers from Motala Heights. Abahlali baseMjondolo repelled this eviction and the shack dwellers remain in their homes today.

In 2007 and 2008 the most notorious of the local landlords, Ricky Govender, tried to illegally evict two families from the tin houses. Abahlali baseMjondolo repelled these evictions and those families remain in their homes today.

Now six families, living in rented backyard shacks and tin houses in Motala Heights, face eviction by local landowners. Those subject to eviction include pensioners and women-headed households with young children, all who have lived in Motala all their lives. They have nowhere else to go.

Lot 35

The first eviction case involves three families residing in tin houses: a single mother with two daughters, an elderly husband and wife, and a married couple with four children.

The Legal Aid Board in Pinetown is representing the landowner in court. Legal Aid’s mandate is to provide legal representation for the poor, those who cannot afford access to private lawyers. The three families have raised questions about the landowners’ representation by Legal Aid; court papers disclose that she owns not only a large lot of land in Motala, but also 15 houses.

Yet, in the course of representing the landowner, the Legal Aid Board in Pinetown sent letters to the families, which read: “NOTICE OF EVICTION”: “Kindly take note that you that you are hereby requested to vacate our clients’ premises with immediate effect.” The letters only were delivered recently, but are dated September 2007. Another letter is dated May 2006. When the families went to the Legal Aid Board in Pinetown for an explanation, they were turned away.

The residents then approached the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), which declined to take their case, but agreed to send a letter to Legal Aid inquiring why the Board, aimed to assist those without the funds for private attorneys, was acting for a landowner with 15 houses. Thus far, Legal Aid has not responded to the LRC letter.

The families under threat of eviction raised additional questions about the legal standing of the eviction notices, which must be delivered by the sheriff. These notices came by post. No PIE (Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act) notice has been issued.

It seems that the Legal Aid Board is not only representing the rich (for free) against the poor but is also attempting an illegal eviction.

Two of the families are paying R650 per month. The other family is paying R450 per month. Their backyard dwellings are dilapidated. The families must make all repairs at their own cost.

The residents are not in arrears; they have paid their rent consistently. The local pastor, as well as the landowner’s nephew, who collects the rent, testified in writing to the court that the families were respectful tenants and paid their rent on time.

Last week, one of the families was hauled into court on a civil matter. The landowner claims that she has been harassed and threatened by the occupants. The residents have made a similar counter-claim. Now, the landowner is seeking their eviction via the civil case.

The one family in question has secured a postponement in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on 8 April 2009 with the support of the UKZN Legal Aid Clinic. Their case will return to civil court on 29 April. The other two families’ eviction matter is still pending.

Lot 25

The second eviction case concerns three families from Lot 25 in Motala. They live in self-made shacks in the backyard of a large house, where the landowner lives. The families in the backyard shacks entered into a verbal lease agreement with the landowner, at the cost of R500 per month.

Last February and July, the landowner raised the rent to R800. The seven families living on his property share one outdoor standpipe. The landowner charges R100 per person per month for use of this standpipe. Even the youngest child, of two years old, is charges R100 per month for water.

On one occasion, the landowner arbitrarily switched off the water from the standpipe, leaving the families without water from early morning until late at night. The police instructed him to return the flow of water for the sake of the children living there.

The landowner now seeks to evict three of the families, and collect their arrears in addition to a 15.5% interest fee. According to the landowner, the families – one supported by an old-age pension and the other two by casual work – are required to pay between R6000 and R10 000 in addition to his legal costs.

The residents are angered by the actions of the landlords and these latest eviction threats.

The Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch has resolved to break the power of the landlords over the poor and to force the eThekwini Municipality to expropriate the empty landholdings in the area so that houses can be built for all of the poor of Motala in Motala.

For further information and comment please contact:

Bongo Dlamini: 074 875 6234
Shamita Naidoo: 074 315 7962

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
*Motala Heights Crisis Deepens as Violent Intimidation Against the Strong Poor Continues, 13 May 2008
*Court Action Against Intimidation in Motala Heights, 12 & 13 June 2008
*AbM Youth League Chairperson’s shack has just been lost to fire, 30 July 2008
*Armed De-Electrification in Motala Heights, 19 August 2008

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
* Photo essay on Motala Heights in December 2006 by Antonios Vradis.
*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
*‘Meeting of the Poor Against the Rich’, 17 November 2007
*The Motala Diggers, 31 October, 2008

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
*Daily News, 16 June 2008: Order won to prevent harassment: Tenants take landlord to court
*Mercury, 17 June 2008: Order granted against landlord ‘harassment’
*Mercury, 21 August 2008: Land owner to take legal action to evict tenants

Other Media

*CNN, 11 June 2008: Slums offer surprising hope for tomorrow’s urban world

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
*Court papers for interdicts against Ricky Govender et al, the Station Commander of the Pinetown SAPS & the Minister of Safety & Security, 13 June, 2008
*Letter from CALS to Ricky Govender’s lawyer on ongoing intimidation of James Pillay despite the interdict, 8 July 2008, 2008
*Letter from CALS to Ricky Govender’s lawyer explaining that they have no legal basis to evict, 31 July 2008, 2008

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
*Abahlali baseMjondolo & the Police A list of key incidents of police harassment between March 2005 and January 2008 (including references to incidents in Motala Heights)
*Letter to the eThekwini Municipality from groundWork on illegal dumping by Ricky Govender, January 2008
*COHRE report on housing rights in Durban (includes Motala Heights), October 2008

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.