Background to the eMmaus Shack Settlement

This document is excerpted and adapted from a longer document prepared by Christof Haug and the eMmaus community with the help of Zodwa Nsibande.

A brief history of eMmaus (~1990 – 2010)

The settlement was created after people had to leave Motala Farm in the late 1980s because the land that they had occupied there was sold by the Roman Catholic Church to some industry. Some of the people were promised to receive two room houses as a subsidy but not all of them actually received such a church built house (on then church owned land at eMmaus). As a result, they either rented one of the rooms from those who did receive a house or they built a shack nearby. This is how the shack settlement was formed in the early 1990s.

The shack settlement started to grow due to the growth of families, both in the formal houses and in the shacks. In the formal houses, the growth of the house owning families implied that they could no longer rent out part of their house any more so the tenants (whose families were also growing) were forced to move out and build shacks. The growth of the families living in the shacks obviously also implied the need to build more shacks.

Sometimes – especially in Winter – there were shack fires which meant that the tenants of these shacks had to move away.

The attacks on the community started in 2006 when Africon – a subcontractor of Mahogany (i.e. Mahogany Ridge 2 Property Owners Association), who claims ownership of the land – demolished the whole settlement unlawfully, i.e. without a court order. The community did not have the strength to resist the demolishing of the shacks but as soon as the demolishers had left, the community started to rebuild their shacks.

After 2-3 years (i.e. 2008 or 2009) the very same people (i.e. Africon) returned with the mission to demolish all the shacks once again, which they did (including destroying belongings of the inhabitants).
This time, the shacks where not immediately rebuilt. Rather, the people moved to other informal settlements or stayed at a shelter provided by the firm where they work.

In September 2010 some people returned to eMmaus and started to rebuild shacks because they had learned that it was not the owner of the land (i.e. the church) that was ordering Africon to evict them so that they felt that there was no legal basis for evicting them. The basis for this assumption was apparently the fact that families that had formal houses (the ones that were provided by the church) had title deeds that showed that the land was owned by the church.

In November 2010, Africon came back to demolish the new shacks. They destroyed about 9 shacks which were not yet fully finished (and hence not yet occupied). Six shacks were not destroyed.

The current situation (2011)

Another attack by Africon followed in 21 January 2011. Security guards handed over letters from Mahogany claiming that their “digging” on the land was illegal and demanding “to stop digging with immediate effect on that property and remove all the equipment you are using on the property.” The letter also states that the matter has been referred to the police. Following this the company managed to destroy 3 unoccupied shacks as well as the self-made toilets of the community. The reason why Africon stopped with the destruction was that “a legal intervention issued to compel them to cease their unlawful actions”.

Finally, on 18 February, Africon collected all the shack building materials and drove it to an unknown place. When asked about their doing, the Africon staff said that the owner of Africon told them to do so. Later Mahogany erected an electric fence around the land.

The community has tried to check the land ownership and the municipal office they consulted told them that the land did not belong to Mahogany. According to the official they spoke to, the land belongs to the municipality (who received it from the Roman Catholic Church).

Apparently Mahogany owns some other land with offices and warehouses in the area.

The community is not happy with the electric fence near their residential area because of the danger it constitutes for small children who cannot be controlled all the time. A second problem is that the fence divides the community since there are shacks on both sides of the fence. They say that it is like a border running right through the community and it makes them feel like they live in a cage like animals. Furthermore, they mention that the fence forces some of them who work nearby to take a much longer walk to their workplace, since they have to walk all around the fence instead of taking a short cut.

The community says that this land has not been used in 16 years so they were hoping to get some development (RDP houses, schools, etc.) and they want to know why Mahogany are suddenly saying that they are starting to use it now that new shacks have been built on the land.

The community says that the ward councillor, Derrick Nkosi Dimba (ANC, ward 15), is invisible. They say that he denies that he is the councillor for their area and when they want to speak to him, he is always busy or in a meeting. For this reason the community will not vote in the upcoming elections because they don’t know who to vote for since no one comes to the community and says “I know you, you are my people.”