Anger over Empolweni evictions

Law enforcement agents destroy illegally erected shacks in Khayelitsha on Monday April 13.

Tensions and emotions ran high as residents from Empolweni informal settlement in Makhaza gathered in big groups after their shacks were demolished and material confiscated by law enforcement agencies over the weekend.

More than 100 families have been left destitute after their shacks were demolished as they had been occupying City-owned land illegally.

The eviction process took place over the Easter weekend, from Good Friday, April 10, until Family Day, Monday April 13.

When Vukani arrived in the area on Monday, a large group of more than 100 people had gathered where some of their shacks had been, while leaders from various organisations addressed them about the way forward.

There was a heavy law enforcement presence as officers kept a close eye on the residents’ movements.

However, after few minutes, law enforcement dispersed the crowd and destroyed the few remaining shacks while residents hurled insults at them.

Community leader, Nkuthazo Hambile, said some residents had been living in the area for three months while others had been there for at least three weeks.

He said occupying land was not an easy choice to make as it meant living without toilets, electricity and other basic needs.

Mr Hambile said in some cases authorities started demolishing the shacks while people were still inside and they were not given a chance to remove their valuables.

He said ever since they started occupying the land their shacks had been constantly destroyed and their material taken. He said for the last three days or so people had been sleeping in an empty shipping container while others did not sleep at all, instead they made a brazier to keep themselves warm as they sat up throughout the night.

He said their ward councillor promised to look for community halls so that people could at least have a place to sleep but others rejected the idea, stating various personal and health reasons. “We feel that we have been humiliated. The government says we must stay indoors but how are we going to do that if we are homeless. We have no way to go home. Others here are unemployed and can’t afford to pay rent and their landlords have chased them out of their properties. We are at risk of contracting this deadly disease. We are told that we can’t gather but where must we go? It’s very sad to be a poor black person in this province,” he said.

Mr Hambile said they do not have any idea of where they would go from here.

He said some had used their last cent to buy building material and now that it has been taken they do not know what to do.

With winter on the way, Mr Hambile said every time he thinks about it, he gets a headache. Resident Nabathembu Qomo, said she was in abuse marriage and when she divorced her husband a year ago the court granted her the house so that she could live with her children. But the mother of five said her abusive husband continued to assault her as he wanted the house and sent people to threaten her. This, she said, made her leave the house.

For the last three months, she said her shack had been destroyed every time there was an eviction but she decided not to give up because she has nowhere to go.

Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, denied that this was an eviction. He said the court had granted the City an order to remove unoccupied and unfinished structures in line with the provisions of the law and based on advice from legal professionals.

“These structures were illegally erected on City-owned land. Land invasions are illegal,” he said.