Shacks Demolished at Motala Heights, Pinetown

Shacks Demolished at Motala Heights, Pinetown

One could be forgiven for thinking that a tornado had ripped through Motala Heights shack settlement on Saturday (28 October 2006). About 20 shacks have been reduced to mangled piles of timber which their former residents pick through in order to salvage their belongings.

Yet this was no tornado, but rather the actions of the eThekwini municipality. Residents reported that at about 8:00 am on Saturday morning, about 25-30 metro security arrived driving vehicles with NDM number plates. They brought with them a further 12-15 unskilled labourers with large hammers.

Without any warning, they set about demolishing shacks in various parts of the settlements. Although they appeared to be randomly scattered, they reportedly belonged to people renting shacks, unlike others which were owner-occupied.

Shack dwellers reported that the demolition team was lead by Bhekani Ntuli and Kumbuzile Mkhize of the Housing department, while the security team was led by Mr Mthembu.

The demolition teams cleared as many shacks as they could in a day’s work, and facilitated the relocation of some families to Nazareth housing development. Some families did not qualify for a house in Nazareth because their shack did not have a number painted on it. They were simply left homeless. Others chose not to move.

About 19 people slept either in other shacks or in the open on Saturday night. On Sunday, the settlement was filled with echoes of hammers as shacks were hastily reconstructed. The municipality visited in order to check which shacks were being rebuilt.

During the clearance it was announced that the entire settlement was to be cleared. The settlement began 30 years ago and now consists of 227 shacks. There was no indication as to when this would happen. There were also threats that the ablution block and water supply would be destroyed in order to drive away those who did not want to move. This ablution block was built by the government in 2004 and is the only sanitation other than self built pit latrines.

Many say that they are reluctant to move because Nazareth is near Marianhill in ward 16 while they are in ward 15 near Westmead. They depend on living close to their places of employment, normally as domestic workers, gardeners and in factories of Westmead. They have not been shown the place of proposed relocation and have no idea what education and other facilities there will be. There is also little clarity on who would qualify for a house there, and nothing has been provided in writing on this. Some believe that housing allocation has been corrupt.

The land on which the shack settlement is built is owned by the municipality. Many report that a neighbouring land owner, Mr Govendor, is putting pressure on the councillor, Mr Dimba, to clear the shacks. All land adjacent to the settlement is currently undeveloped. Mr Dimba told the shack dwellers recently that they must go back to the farm where they came from. They do not recall ever having been visited by their councillor.

Motala Heights settlement has recently affiliated itself with Abahlali BasemJondolo, the movement of the shackdwellers, which began in March 2005 and now has more than 30 shack settlements associated with it. It was feared that the timing of the clearance was deliberately intended to stifle attempts to get court interdicts against the demolitions. This would be recognition by the government that their actions are illegal and would not pass the legal test in a court. Legal resources have now been mobilised through the Legal Resources Centre who intend to interdict further demolitions on Monday 30 October.

The provincial housing department has recently stated its intention to eradicating all slums by 2010. A few months ago the provincial MEC for housing Mike Mabuykhulu tabled the Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act.

‘Its aim is to eradicate shack settlements by 2010 … Mabuyakhulu said he wanted the law to be passed before the end of the current financial year. He wants municipalities to employ special units similar to the so-called Red Ants – the shack settlement-clearing security guards in Gauteng which are used to demolish illegal settlements. “Our diplomatic approach is not working. We are now taking a stronger approach,” he said.’ (Mbanjwa 2006).

(see Mbanjwa, Xolani (2006) ‘KZN push for an end to slums’ Sunday Tribune. 23 April 2006)

Further information

Alson Mkhize 0827608429
Mnikelo Ndabankulu 0735656241

This press release was drafted by Richard Ballard, a senior research fellow at the School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal who visited the site on Sunday 29 October along with members of Abahlali BaseMjondolo and held discussions with affected residents.