Rain is expected to pour for much of this week in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, where three hundred people are braving the elements after being left homeless. The former shack dwellers were part of a larger group of some 1,000 people who illegally occupied land at Peace Village in Motherwell, and whose homes were destroyed by the police and municipal workers on Wednesday, 13 March 2013. The group, which include elderly women in their seventies and eighties as well as babies and school children, has been sleeping in the open in a local stadium for close on two weeks now because they have nowhere else to go.
“Most of the people are sleeping on the ground and they have no blankets, and some of them have no food. The weather was hot last week, but it changed over the weekend and now the rain is coming. The rain and the cold are coming and there are old ladies there – one lady was born in 1936, another one was born in the 1920s and they are sleeping there, in that open space,” says Simpiwe Dayimani, Chairman of the National Civic Organisation (SANCO) in Ward 54, where the homeless group is from.
“We have asked some neighbouring people to please accommodate the children so at least they can still go to school, and they can wash, have water and sanitation,” says a desperate-sounding Dayimani. At the open stadium where this group of homeless people is staying, they have access to one change room that can accommodate about ten people at a time.
“These people have been on a waiting list since 1999 to get RDP houses, but the municipality won’t give them the houses that are being built. They have been waiting patiently for over a decade now,” says Dayimani during a telephonic interview from the Eastern Cape. The Sanco chairman says the group was made up of “backyard dwellers” who are fed up with being “bullied” and being ignored by the local municipality.
The now-homeless shack dwellers say that all of their names are on a waiting list for RDP houses with the local department of human settlements, but houses are given to others not on the list. The evictees claim that new RDP houses being built in Motherwell are being acquired fraudulently by people who have the means to bribe officials from human settlements department, or by paying off local ward councillors.
“These backyard dwellers invaded some land in Motherwell in 2012, and the municipality took them to court to get them to vacate this land. While the court case was going on the people built their shacks and were staying on the land,” says Dayimani, who adds that the former shack dwellers were being represented by Legal Aid. When it became clear that the shack dwellers were to be evicted, the municipality was petitioned to allow the group to dissemble their own homes.
“On the day we were supposed to meet with the municipality they came with the police. They brought an old court order that was invalid and out of date, and then they started to tear the shacks down. What shocked us is that they burnt our stuff, and people who were at work did not get their belongings and they lost IDs, licences, blankets, their food,” the Sanco ward chairperson says with dismay.
Activist and Nelson Mandela Metro Bay municipal worker Anele Yawa went off his own bat to meet with the homeless people at the NU 11 stadium after hearing reports about angry residents going on the rampage after being left destitute. When he got there he was shocked at what he saw.
“These residents are currently staying in a changing room at NU 11 Stadium because their ward councillor and human settlement officials are refusing to arrange a temporary accommodation for these people,” Yawa says, adding that a plea for help from the local social development offices also fell on deaf ears.
“Within these residents there are young, old and disabled people and all of them are flocking in this changing room at night and others are sleeping outside because they do not have another place to stay. When I visited this place blankets were hanging on the fence and the people were sitting along the wall,” Yawa explains. “Personally I have pledged R250 to these people so that they can be able to have something to eat. I also promised them that I will arrange a tent in the meantime so that there can be a more space to accommodate them.”
When asked for comment, the spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality says that the local government never burnt anyone’s shacks. “No man! Why would we be so irresponsible and disrespectful to people? There was no burning of shacks,” says municipal spokesperson, Kupido Baron, who then states he’d prefer to offer a written response.
While waiting for the response, Daily Maverick has another look at an eTV report that’s headlined “PE shacks destroyed by municipality” that some of the makeshift homes being razed to the ground after being broken down. Baron’s telephonic response to the eTV report is to repeatedly say “no shacks were burnt”.
In the written statement, Baron again asserts: “Under no circumstances did we burn shacks from the affected community. The shacks were broken down as per the court order and the corrugated iron and wooden planks were separated to make it more difficult for transgressors to rebuild shacks immediately,” he says.
“We did burn planks to make it even more difficult, and reject claims that personal possessions were destroyed. We needed the land to be cleared in order for us to start with a planned RDP housing project and could not allow the illegal occupation of the land as we wanted to make sure that the people who actually qualify in terms of our criteria move in when their houses are completed,” he states.
Says Baron: “We must also take into account that all the people lived elsewhere before the illegal occupation towards the end of last year. We are meeting with the community regularly and keep them up to date on the plans for the area.” DM
Photos: Stills from the e.tv footage of Motherwell.