Nomalungelo Mchunu – a single mother of two children  had her home demolished by the eThekwini Municipality’s evictions unit this week on grounds that she and her fellow shack dwellers were flouting municipal by-laws pertaining to human settlement.

“What they usually do is that they ambush us at night, demolish our structures and arrest us. Many of the women have babies and they are forced to go to police cells with their babies some as young as two years old,” Mchunu told Mukurukuru Media.

She adds that since the lockdown was announced, police brutality has increased.

Apart from the KwaZulu-Natal situation, the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces have come under scrutiny for carrying out evictions during the lockdown. 

The Legal Resources Centre this week took the City of Cape Town to court in its bid to bar the metro from demolishing shacks and forcefully evicting residents.

The LRC was reacting in the aftermath of the demolition of more than 30 shacks at Ekhayelitsha’s Empolweni informal settlement.

It was seeking declaration at the Western Cape High Court that the stance by the City to evict residents was unlawful and that all items and belongings taken during the eviction be taken back to its original owners hassle free.

“We have nowhere else to go and if government destroys our homes where should we run to for safety?” asks Mchunu who makes a living as a street vendor.

She had to use her last money to pay R1 000 bail following the arrest.

“About 20 other women were arrested that night with their children. And some of them are still detained. I was lucky to get out because I had saved some money so I used it to pay for my bail,” she says.

Zanele Mcineka also a single mother shares a similar anguish, saying women were soft targets of the municipal bullies.

“I work as a domestic worker and that’s the only source of income providing food for my four children. My shack was also demolished by the people from the municipality while my children were inside,” says an emotionally wrecked Mcineka.

She says during the ordeal, her six-year-old daughter was injured when parts of the rubble fell onto her but her siblings were able to come to her rescue and pulled her out of the rubble.

“These people are heartless, now I have to try to find means to buy building material and erect a new shack. To make matters worse, we lost our groceries during the demolitions and the children don’t understand why we are without food or shelter,” laments Mcineka.

 “We have been living here for the past 20 years and it’s only now during the lockdown that they decide to demolish our houses. Many of us have been in the municipal housing list for years, we also want to be treated with dignity and raise our children in proper homes,” she adds.

Mchunu lives in Azania, an informal settlement in Cator Manor, South East of Durban while Mcineka is a resident at at eKuphumuleni near Marianhill. Each of the establishments has an estimated 700 households.

The establishments have been the subject of forceful evictions since the announcement of the national state disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The metro insists that it has done nothing against the law, labelling the shack dwellers as ‘opportunists’.

“The shacks under question are new housing structures. They were not there before. These were only housing structures which were affected. We cannot allow a situation where opportunistic individuals are using [the] Corona virus [lockdown] as an opportunity to flout municipal bylaws. The municipality has taken a zero tolerance stance to land grabs,” says eThekwini municipality mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.

He says those who were affected were being accommodated in temporary shelters organised by the municipality, saying the priority was to keep women and children safe.  

The forced evictions and demolishing of shacks has also been turned into a political football with the Department of Human Settlement announcing that all evictions would be halted during the lockdown period while on the other hand municipalities were pressing on with demolishing people’s shacks.

Abahlali baseMjondolo, a movement representing the rights of shack dwellers says there has been an increase in incidents of unwarranted evictions of shack dwellers during the Corona outbreak. The organisation says shack dwellers bore the brunt of the lockdown.

“These people are poor and rely on casual jobs for survival and many of them are trapped into poverty. Instead of the democratic government protecting the people, it is savagely attacking them and their livelihoods,” says Abahlali BaseMjondolo spokesperson, Mqapheli Bonono.

He says they  are continuously getting reports from their  members that the municipality had issued an instruction calling for the demolition of people’s houses.

“This is the worst form of cruelty that can be done to any living human being. Besides, this is a clear abuse of constitutional rights to human dignity and to basic shelter,” insists Bonono.

Recently, the United Nations announced a worldwide total ban of evictions during the Covid -19 outbreak, saying it would spell disaster to the fight against the global pandemic.

About 27 social justice organisations subsequently followed suit locally demanding that the national command council place a moratorium on evictions to prevent homelessness and the uncontrollable spread of the virus.

“Housing is more important now than ever before and the state must take measures to prioritise protecting the most vulnerable by preventing evictions and homelessness,” it said in a letter addressed to the national command council.   

The national command council was assembled by Ramaphosa and serves as an interim decision making structure informing citizens about Covid-19 developments. It comprises of ministers, senior government officials, academics and epidemiologists. – Mukurukuru Media

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