Mercury: Shack dwellers go to court for homes

Shack dwellers go to court for homes

by Tania Broughton

Three years ago a group of shack dwellers said they feared they would simply “fall off the radar” if they were forced into a transit camp so their homes could be bulldozed for a new road.

Their words have proved prophetic.

Thirty-nine families that used to live at Siyanda settlement, near Pinetown, are languishing in “atrocious conditions” at Richmond Farm transit camp – even though in 2009 a Durban High Court judge instructed the eThekwini municipality to provide them with permanent housing within a year.

That deadline passed in March 2010, and now the families have been forced to return to court. They want a fresh order giving the mayor, the municipal manager and the director of housing 60 days to act, failing which they want the errant officials to be personally held in contempt and jailed or fined.

The issue first came before court when the Transport Department applied for an order to evict 50 families from their homes, arguing that their informal settlement was standing in the way of a R550-million arterial road linking Inanda and Pinetown.

The residents cried foul, saying they had been promised two-storey brick houses in the nearby Khulula formal housing estate, but the houses had been allocated to others.

Because of this, they said, they had been forced to relocate to the transit camp to live in containers measuring just 10m².

In terms of an order granted by Judge Themba Sishi, the residents were evicted – but he also directed the municipality to provide them with formal houses within a year, “by correction of the misallocation of houses in that project” or by providing them with similar houses in other projects.

But this did not happen.

In an affidavit filed with the court, resident Mthunzi Mchunu said several attempts had been made to engage the municipality on the issue, but to no avail.

“Our main concern was that we were going to be forgotten as soon as the department had achieved its objective in removing us from the road reserve,” he said. “We feared we would be dumped at the camp. The judge carefully crafted the order. Our worst fears have been realised.”

Mchunu described conditions at the transit camp – created to hold people until they receive proper houses – as “appalling”. It had 12 toilets and 12 showers for 80 households, but only seven toilets were working. The tap for drinking and washing was located behind the toilets, and there was no refuse collection.

Mchunu added that Sibusiso Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo (the shack dwellers’ movement), had raised the matter with James Nxumalo, both in his previous capacity as speaker and his present position as mayor.

He said that Nxumalo and housing head Cogi Pather were aware of the court order and that it had not been complied with.

A copy of their order had also been served on them in November last year.

He said the officials were functionaries of the municipality who had the power and constitutional duty to ensure that the city complied with the order. They should therefore be held personally accountable for the municipality’s non-compliance.

Teboho Mosikili, an attorney at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA, who is assisting the families with their court action, said the application had been lodged in December.

Except for a notice that it was opposing the matter, no other responses had been received from the municipality.

The city’s head of legal services, Nokhana Moerane, said the matter was being dealt with by a member of her staff and she did not have any details on hand. – The Mercury