Category Archives: Steph Lane

Durban court denies eviction notice to shackdwellers

Durban court denies eviction notice to shackdwellers
by Steph Lane Friday January 06, 2006 at 07:27 PM

This morning in the Durban High court, a judge adjourned a request from University of Kwa-Zulu Natal to evict four households from a shack settlement called Banana City, located within the grounds of the University’s Westville Campus. She ruled that because the University had not filled out all of the proper documents, they were not in order a! nd would have to re-serve the eviction notices to the households, and appear again to the court at a later date.

The judge was especially concerned about the rights of two very young children-an infant and a two-year-old-in one of the households threatened with eviction. “We must protect the interests of these minor children,” she said to the University’s lawyer.

A group of about 20 residents of Banana City and supporters accompanied a legal counsel to lend their opposition to these eviction notices to four long-term tenants at the informal settlement. The University says it wants to expand its student housing on the land where the settlement occupies.

Banana City is an informal settlement established on a hillside more than 50 years ago, before the University’s campus was developed there. Many early residents moved to the area from rural parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal to work as domestic servants in nearby suburbs. Today there are about 2,000 people who call Banana City home, but with only about 150 shacks in the settlement, each one- (or on a rare occasion two-) room household has an average of 10 to 12 people. It is easy to find families with children and grandchildren born in Banana City. Few people who are employed can find more than part time or temporary work.

This is the first time Banana City residents have been served with an eviction notice. For years, the settlement and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal have had an agreement about the continued use of the site by its residents, says Sibus! iso Xaba, a spokesperson for the Banana City Informal Settlement Area Committee. But residents have never been given a permanent place to live, and services, like access to a communal tap for drinking water or garbage removal, have been terminated. Now residents have to travel long distances to fetch water. Recently, due to the appointment of a new vice chancellor at the University, the agreement with settlement residents has come under scrutiny.

Many residents of Banana City cannot understand the University’s unwillingness to support their settlement. For decades, students have done research based in the community, and some lecturers still use the settlement for current projects. Approximately 300 children from Banana City attend the nearby Hillview primary school. And many people work as domestic servants in homes that surround the University, or take short term con! struction jobs on campus.

But, residents say, the University does not let them access services available to the campus community even though they are on their grounds, and members of the community as well. The childcare center on campus is exorbitantly expensive. The soccer grounds and other sports fields and centers are not open to their children. Residents cannot enter campus by car. Even the use of the University’s health clinic is not available.

So children run free unsupervised after school. There is no community center. The elderly and expectant mothers do not have easy access to health facilities. Residents have to walk from the University gate with large parcels. There are no toilets or nearby water taps.

The University says the municipality must pick up the trash from the informal settlement, but, says a community researcher, “how can a municipal truck get there if no cars are allowed to Banana City?”

The four households served with notices by the University are newer dwellings, along the ridge overlooking the lower portions of Banana City and the 1 to 2 km path to the distant water tap below.

One of the households given a notice belongs to Mrs. M. Sithole. A mother of 4, she lives with seven people in a two-room shack. Three of her children attend Hillview Primary School. Mrs. Sithole has lived for 20 years in Banana City. She had originally built her home in another part o! f the settlement, but it was destroyed in a fire. After staying with her brother-in-law while she looked for building materials, she decided to move her house to a safer, less congested part of the settlement, near the ridge.

Her children don’t have birth certificates because she didn’t have the money to get them made. Because of this, none of them have ID cards, so her eldest child, who is 20, is unable to get a job or vote. Her family survives on her ability to get temporary jobs once or twice a week doing housework in the nearby suburbs, maybe bringing in 70 Rand in total.

Like many other families in Banana City, Mrs. Sithole left her rural home near Greytown because of political conflict. If she had to leave the settlement, she has no idea wher! e she would stay. “It is difficult for us,” she says. “There are seven in my house. Who would let us squat with them?”

Mrs. N. D. Lingani, a grandmother of two with five daughters staying with her in her house, didn’t even know about her eviction notice. A resident of Banana City for 13 years, she stayed with her sister and her family at first, but recently moved into another place when it got too congested there. Mrs. Lingani also came to Durban from Greytown, to look for a job. None of her children are employed. “I’m an old lady surviving with a pension from the government,” she said.

The University contends that these newer shacks have been built by newer tenants in the community. “These are not new people,” says B. Mbolekwa, another community researcher. “These are people who have been residing with others. So they have built these new houses. She needs her own privacy. But they have been here.”

The house of Mr. Majosi, a community leader in Banana City, was also named in the application for eviction. In 1985, his wife moved to the settlement to take a job as a domestic worker. He arrived in 1995. They have four children and seven grandchildren, for a total of 13 people living together in two rooms. Mr. Majosi’s wife remains the only source of employment, and she makes around 800 Rand per month. But with 5 grandchildren in school and school fees of 350 Rand each every year, it is difficult to make ends meet.

Mr. Majosi used to own a small business on campus, where he sold fruits and candy to students who couldn’t afford to spend money on larger lunches. But the University has now forbidden vendors outside established buildings to operate on campus grounds. The only other work he and other peers can find is as a casual laborer on construction jobs on campus, but that only pays 20 to 40 Rand per day.

Most of the residents of Banana City are deemed criminals or untrustworthy, says Mbolekwa. “If [the University] could employ people to clean your place, it would be the responsibility of people here. But the university does not want to support them.” It would be easy, she says, to set up a community center or sponsor students who have finished grade 12, so they could continue their education and move on to better lives and better places.

The University and the municipality seek to relocate the entire settlement to ParkGate, a community 27 kms from Banana City, an unaffordable option for many families whose only work will not cover the cost for transport. Returning home to the rural areas is also not an option. Majosi’s family left their rural home years ago because of conflicts between leaders of neighbouring villages and his own.

“I don’t know where to go,” he says. “That is why I’m fighting.”

Threats made to shack dwellers at Joe Slovo settlement in Mobeni Heights in Lamontville

Threats made to shack dwellers at Joe Slovo settlement in Mobeni Heights in Lamontville
by Steph Lane and Fazel Khan

Two weeks ago at the Joe Slovo informal settlement, bulldozers came in and destroyed the house of an outspoken member of the community. He had invited a journalist to the settlement to talk about corruption in the housing allocation process at Joe Slovo, accusing the local community leader of giving preferential treatment to family members, and of excluding Xhosa residents from new housing. Other members of the community, including Mrs. B. Gule, are worried that their houses are next to be razed.

Mrs. Busisiwe Gule, whose shack is also scheduled for demolition, is worried that she is next. “They came and put an ‘X’ on my door back in December at 7 p.m. one evening,” she said. “Usually that means ‘pack your things, tomorrow we will tear down the shelter.'” She received no notice, and no formal papers of eviction. “But they said they would give me some time to find someplace new.”

Mrs. Gule, who is Xhosa, lives with two of her daughters, ages 9 and 6, in a one-room shack with walls of wood slats held together by nails, staples, wires and bungee cord. The roof, like the other tentatively constructed buildings around it, is a large plastic tarp, weighted with rocks and tires and pieces of wood.

The confusing thing about Mrs.Gule’s situation is that she had a new place to go. She has lived in Joe Slovo settlement for more than 10 years, and she was placed on a waiting list last February for new houses that were being built in Mt Moriah, 37 “upgrades” of one-room houses to replace the shacks that most residents are presently living in.

She was set to get one of these new houses. But, she says, someone else was put in her new house instead.

When Mrs. Gule went to speak to the local housing project manager about the mistaken allocation, she was accused of forging a copy of a waiting list card. “Comfort [Gumede] gave me this card,” she says, referring to the former project manager for housing allocation at Joe Slovo. She holds up a small 5 cm by 5 cm piece of paper with her name on it, a registration number and “House #95.”

At “Martin West,” the name community that residents use for the building that houses the municipality’s housing department, the registration number is listed under a different name, “Nomaxabiso.” This person is now living in the house Mrs. Gule says was rightfully hers.

The present housing allocation manager, Ms. Khumbuzile, told her that her name was not near the top of the list. She would see about getting Mrs. Gule a different place in the settlement in Mt. Moriah.

Now, Mrs. Gule says, she is afraid to go there. She is worried she will become a target because she has been fighting against corruption in Joe Slovo.

When the first of the 37 upgrades were completed, the local community leader, Mkhonzeni Mlaba, gave the keys for one of the houses to his sister-in-law. “She never lived in the settlement,” says Esther, an articulate young woman who moved to Joe Slovo in 1993, when she was “a young wife.”

“How can he give a house to his family when so many people are on the [waiting] list?” she says.

Four people from the settlement went to Martin West to the housing department to complain. Ms. Khumbuzile, the new local housing allocater, had not mentioned to anyone in the office that Mlaba had given one of the houses to his sister-in-law.

Managers promised to investigate, but nothing happened.

Residents continued to protest, faxing letters to the mayor, the provincial minister of housing and the national minister of housing. Mrs. Gule went with a group to speak to the head of housing at Martin West, Mr. Gwela. He would only talk to them through a window. Joe Slovo residents demanded that Gwela give them a copy of the community’s housing waiting list, so they might compare it to their own waiting list cards. He refused.

Finally, a police officer came and confiscated the keys to the house. Esther says that Mr. Mlaba denied that he knew the rightful owner. In order to get the keys back, the person allocated the house must give an affadavit to the police. Esther says they are still waiting for that to happen.

Early last year, community members had called local Councilor Khuzimpi Shezi and told him they wanted to change their community leader. There was a mass meeting of Joe Slovo residents to nominate and elect new leadership. When Councilor Shezi was told about the change in representation, he refused to acknowledge it.

Joe Slovo settlement’s local process usually takes place every year, where residents meet to elect new representation for the next year. But Mkhonzeni Mlaba has been leader since 2002. After 4 years, Esther says, Mlaba has held few meetings with community members. “He doesn’t talk. [If] we demand maybe he will meet. But he only takes a few questions and selects people to speak.”

One hundred meters away from Mrs.Gule’s shelter, a few men work on building the walls to a new house. The next round of upgrades for Joe Slovo includes plans for 236 one-room houses in the present settlement. Sites have been decided upon for the placement of the concrete slabs that will serve as the floors of these houses, and local community residents are being employed to construct the walls.

Esther says that her husband often gets short-term employment to help with house construction. A builder gets 950 Rand per house, and pays 2 other laborers 150 Rand each to help him lay the brick for the walls for the next three days. When they are done, someone else installs the plumbing.

“We have to collect electricity ourselves,” Esther says. “People come in the night to install it in new houses.” She says it usually costs 350 to 400 Rand, to connect wires that once ran from a shack to a new house. Esther points to the pole in front of Mrs. Gule’s home, which has wires running from it to an older structure, and then from that to newer buildings.

One of the things that makes this informal settlement different from other mjondolos is that community members have won the right to upgrades on their own land. Instead of being forced to move to another community, Joe Slovo residents fought for and won a feasibility study that said that the land they were living on was a decent place to build houses. So the municipality is in the process of contracting out these 236 “upgrades,” one-room houses usually planned for spots that sit right next to community residents’ shacks.

However, instead of giving these new houses to members of the local community, other families are being moved onto Joe Slovo land from Sakhile Mjondolo, opposite the Lamontville clinic just down the road, near the airport. Esther says that other people who have set up shelters along the N2 highway have also been moved into the community.

“A contractor puts a slab in front of an existing shelter,” she says. When the builders are done, it is often a new family from another mjondolo who is given the house, instead of the household living in the shack next to it. “People in these shacks signed onto the [housing upgrade] waiting list first,” Esther complains. “[Residents at o]ther mjondolos signed after.”

“Joe Slovo residents fight for the land, and those across the way,” she points to another settlement 400 meters away, “did not fight to stay [in their community]. Now those in the other mjondolo are getting the housing on the land the Joe Slovo community fought for. That isn’t right.”

As a result of the movement of other families in, some residents from Joe Slovo have been moved to houses at Mt. Moriah.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Gule waits nervously. Her daughters attend the local primary school, and she would prefer to stay at a new house in Joe Slovo. She has hired a private law firm to look into her case.

All they have been able to do, Mrs. Gule says, is tell her to wait to hear back from housing representatives at Martin West.

Confronting housing officials with the unfairness of the housing allocation process, Esther was told: “Money talks.”

“If no money,”she says, “Then no house.”

The irony of this situation is that the community’s more wealthy Indian neighbors are often the employers for local residents as domestic servants or gardeners. Many have benefited from their relationships with residents, who have foiled a number of burglary attempts on their property. In return, Joe Slovo residents have used their neighbors’ influences with local politicians to organize community forums. With the very employment of many Joe Slovo residents, from domestic work to construction jobs, in jeopardy due to relocation, not many community members can afford to leave. But none make enough to bribe an official in order to stay, either.

For Mrs. Gule, it is not money but safety that most concerns her. At this point she is not sure whether staying at Joe Slovo or moving to Mt. Moriah will be safest for her family. The new homes being built on stands right by her property should be finished soon, she says, and she is worried that the bulldozers will be back when the new families are ushered in to their houses.

But all she can do right now, she says, is wait for a response from Martin West and her lawyers, who expect news on relocation sometime this week. Hopefully for Mrs. Gule that won’t be too long to wait.