Monday, 12 January 2009
Siyanda Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release
Bheki Cele Seeks the Forced Eviction of 50 Families
- Agreement on Negotiations
- Court Battle Set Down for 27th January 2009
On 19 December 2008 Bheki Cele, MEC for Transport in KwaZulu-Natal, had the sheriff serve an application to evict 50 families from the Siyanda shack settlement, which lies between Newlands East and KwaMashu. Abahlali baseMjondolo is the 51st respondent to the application. The court date was set down for Friday 9 January 2009. Abahlali baseMjondolo attended court and was represented, pro bono, by Advocate Juliet Nicholson. Advocate Nicholson was briefed by Elco Geldenhuis from Shanta Reddy Attorneys.
The movement secured an adjournment untill 27 January and, most importantly, an agreement that the legal teams for both sides, representatives from the Provincial Department of Transport, the eThekwini Municipality, the Abahlali baseMjondolo Secretariat and the Siyanda Abahlali baseMjondolo branch will meet before Friday 16 January to try and negotiate a settlement. As the Siyanda Abahlali baseMjondolo branch we have never had a chance to put our views on this matter to the Province and we have never been listened to. We welcome the chance to meet and engage with the Department of Transport so that we can discuss these issues.
On 6 December the 50 families received an eviction notice from the state attorney, acting for Bheki Cele, demanding that we leave our homes and accept relocation to the so called “transit camp” at Richmond Farm on 9 December. We were given no guarantees as to how long we were expected to live in the “transit camp” or where, if anywhere, we would be moved on from the there. We were given no answers to our questions. But we do know that when our comrades in the Jadhu Place settlement asked the same questions they were told that they shouldn’t worry because “transit camps will last 30 years”. This answer makes us to worry very much. We did not spend Christmas well.
All but 2 of the families resolved to resist the forced removal and this was communicated to Bheki Cele via the state attorney. We gave clear reasons for our refusal to accept the forced removal and we requested mediation but said that if the Department of Transport continued to refuse to negotiate with us then we would continue our struggle in and out of the court.
The key reasons why we refused to accept the forced removal were and are as follows:
1. So called “transit camps” (known by the people as as amatins or government shacks) are not an acceptable form of alternative accommodation to our shacks. In the amatins there is only one small room per family whereas now some of us have 5 roomed shacks. Also, we have not been given any guarantee as to how long we must stay in the amatins and where, if anywhere, we will be made to go next.
2. All the residents had been promised houses in the Khalula housing project in Siyanda but the houses built for the 50 families have been corruptly sold off to outsiders. We never applied for government houses. We were living in our shacks with written proof of tenure security. We were offered government houses as a compensation for the demolition of our shacks to build a freeway. We agreed to move only because we were promised the houses. A promise of a house can not now be suddenly changed to forced removal to the amatins.
3. Our houses have been corrupted. The houses that were promised to us and then built for us were corruptly sold to outsiders. The people who bought our houses corruptly were brought here in trucks and they were protected by private security – even the ward councillor was threatened by the private security. Duke Ngcobo from the eThewkini Municipality organised the trucks and the private security. Ntuthuko Zulu, the community liaison officer at Linda Masinga and Associates was the one giving out the keys. Linda Masinga was taking her mandate from Duke Ngcobo at the Municipality. We are very surprised and disappointed that Linda Masinga and Associates have allowed this corruption. We are very surprised that they have never been called to answer for this corruption. Why are those criminals so respected and protected? Why are we not respected and protected?
4. There has not been proper consultation with the community. We agreed to accept relocation to the houses in the Khalula Project. The issue of the amatins was never discussed with us. We were only told that we must go the amatins when we complained that our houses had been corruptly sold to other people. For this reason we reject the whole argument by the MEC’s legal team that the ‘transit camp’ is adequate alternative accommodation. In terms of the right to consultation it is irrelevant whether or not the amatins are good for people or not. The fact is that we were promised 4 roomed houses in the Khalula Project. The promise made to us must be kept.
On 11 December the police arrived in Siyanda. They were armed with batons and pistols and went door-to-door with a representative from Linda Masinga & Associates. With bulldozers and transport trucks standing by, the evictors asked each family if they would be willing to be relocated to the so called “transit camp”. They knew that the families had all been promised a 4 room house in the Khalula housing project and not a one room government shack in a so called ‘transit camp’. The MEC had already been informed that only two families would accept the relocation and that is what happened – all but 2 families refused the forced removal. The rest of us stayed in our shacks despite all the intimidation.
On 19 December the remaining families were served with an application for a court order for our eviction. The papers are straight forwardly dishonest. Nandi Mandela, a director at Linda Masinga and Associates, claims that Abahlali baseMjondolo threatened the lives of the eviction team on 11 December. She gives no details – she just makes an empty lie. We did no such thing. Nandi Mandela drove past in a police car on that day. She did not even get out of the car. She probably thinks that we are short minded and violent because that is what most rich people, including many who say that they are on the side of the poor, think about shack dwellers. Or maybe she is one of those many rich people who think that it is automatically criminal for the poor to think and speak for ourselves. Either way she is lying to the judge in the papers.
We will not accept that the promise of a house has now been downgraded to a room in a tiny government shack with no guarantees of how long we will have to live there or where we will be taken next. We will not accept that the government will vandalise our dignity and our humanity and just move us around the city without discussing our future with us in an open, honest and respectful manner.
We will do our best to make the negotiations work. But if they fail we will continue our struggle.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has been to court to stop evictions quite some few times now. The movement has never lost a case. But in all those cases private landlords or the eThekwini Municipality were trying to evict our members without an order of the court. Because the landlords and the Municipality were acting illegally and criminally it was easy to get interdicts from the court preventing the evictions. But the last time that the Municipality tried to evict any of our members was in January 2008.
This case is more complicated because Bheki Cele is, after we refused his first attempt at intimidation, trying to evict the Siyanda residents legally by asking the court to order our eviction. However if the negotiations fail we are confident that we have a good case.
It is true that our living politics and our demand for the dignity of every person are too big to fit into the law and human rights. They go far beyond the protections offered by the law and human rights. But the protections of the law and human rights have kept us safe when the state has come for our members with guns and dogs and teargas to destroy our homes, force us out of the city, stop our protests and try and break the spirits of our leaders. Without that protection we would spend our lives running and have no time to think. Over the last four years we have learnt a lot about the law.
The law clearly states that people cannot be evicted if adequate alternative accommodation is not provided. It is clear to everyone that the amatins are not adequate alternative accommodation. They might be ok for chickens but not for human beings. Yes it is true that some people, even in some of the settlements affiliated to our movement like Foreman Road and Jadhu Place, chose to accept the amatins because they believed it when they were told that the amatins are a step on the road to houses. But even the people who accepted them for this reason are clear that it is worse to live in the amatins than in the shacks that the people build themselves. The international human rights organisations agree that the amatins are unacceptable. The Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions in Geneva recently wrote a letter to Mayor Obed Mlaba about Siyanda. They said that they “condemn the existence of so-called ‘transit camps’, which are found to be highly inadequate and serve to destroy the already fragile socio-economic fabric of people’s lives.” The Constitutional Court is currently considering the adequacy of the so called “transit camps” in relation to Lindiwe Sisulu’s attempt to forcibly remove people from the Joe Slovo shack settlement near the Cape Town airport to the “transit camps” in the notorious human dumping ground of Delft. We will ask the judge to rule that forced removal to ‘transit camps’ is unacceptable.
The law is also clear that the government has a duty to consult with people. We have been lied to, tricked, intimidated and treated with complete contempt. This is not adequate consultation. We will ask the judge to rule that a neutral mediator must be appointed to facilitate open and honest negotiations between Bheki Cele and the Siyanda residents.
Everyone knows that corruption of the sort that has happened in Siyanda is criminal. In this case the corruption is not political – it is just about money. We believe that the corruption stated with Ntuthuko Zulu from Linda Masinga & Associates. Linda Masinga has admitted to us that there were corrupt allocations but she has not done anything about it. We do not believe that Ntuthuko Zulu could make this corruption on his own. It is clear that this has been an organised crime. We will ask the judge to rule that there must be a commission of inquiry into the blatant corruption in Siyanda. This investigation must include Linda Masinga & Associates.
We are calling on the government to take us seriously as positive citizens. They must never again send heavily armed police when we want to talk to them. This must stop. From now on they must accept that we have a right to talk to them and that they have an obligation to talk to us and to talk to us respectfully and honestly. Many things are negotiable but our dignity is not negotiable. On this point we stand firm.
We are very much happy for the meeting that has been agreed to. We know that once our shacks are destroyed and we forced into the government shacks we will never see Linda Masinga and Associates again. Now we can finally say and show what we know and feel. We have pushed the presence of the community at these negotiations. We have elected people that the community can trust. We are happy that they will be able to make sure that the discussions will not just be technical.
If the negotiations fail we will continue to insist, inside and outside of the court that:
1. Everybody has a right to dignity.
2. Everybody has the right to decent housing.
3. Everybody has a right to be protected from corruptions.
4. Everybody has a right to be consulted about everything that affects their life.
5. Promises made must be kept.
Comment and Contact
For further information or comment please contact the following ladies who have been elected to represent the 50 families in the negotiations:
Bongekile Zama: 072 940 5066
S.B. Nxumalo: 076 333 9386
Dorothy Jwile: 073 373 6460