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23 December 2014 06:07 (South Africa)
South Africa

In Langa, Cape Town: A dark combo of housing corruption & police brutality

  • Jared Sacks
  • South Africa
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Twenty-seven-year-old Siyabonga Magcida is in Groote Schuur Hospital today, under 24-hour police surveillance, because he is considered a flight risk. Yet he is severely injured, is connected to drips on both arms and is unable to walk or even speak. By JARED SACKS.

The answer will take us back a full six years, when the Joe Slovo community first rose up to fight their pending eviction to the peri-urban township called Delft on the outskirts of Cape Town. Now, Magcida’s enemy is not just the housing department, but also his former comrades.

In September 2007 the community of Joe Slovo, a shack settlement in the township of Langa, rebelled against the directives of then Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's flagship N2 Gateway housing project. Spearheaded by the newly elected Joe Slovo Task Team, which was frustrated with Sisulu's perceived 'arrogance' for refusing to meet with them, the community decided to make their voices heard on the streets. They blockaded the N2 freeway for hours and were shot at when police decided to send the community back home.

Years later, the community still remembers this action as the turning point in its struggle against what was seen as an Apartheid-like eviction to a desolate township far from work, decent schools and other services. Despite losing (with conditions) at the Constitutional Court in 2009, public pressure against the eviction eventually forced its suspension.

One would think that this was a happy ending for the Joe Slovo community, as Minister Tokyo Sexwale and MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela triumphantly agreed to upgrade the settlement rather than evict them. However, this process seems to have been only the beginning of Joe Slovo's woes.

The development of Joe Slovo began with the involvement of Gates Foundation-funded NGO called Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) which has been instrumental in facilitating negotiations between the community and the provincial housing department. SDI quickly co-opted a number of Task Team leaders into their organisation, specifically hiring the respected Mzwanele Zulu to lead a newly formed Informal Settlement Network.

They then expedited an agreement between the community via the Task Team and the Provincial Department of Human Settlements. So far, so good. The community was happy they would get houses. The Province could claim to have turned around the failed N2 Gateway initiative.

However, eventually things started going very wrong. There was a fight amongst the Task Team. People were resentful of Zulu's beneficial relationship as an employee at SDI. Also, a rival grouping called the ‘Residents’ Committee’ began to attract various sidelined community members.

Then, as the house building began, community members started to complain that the Task Team leaders were being hired as Community Liaison Officers and applying for tenders as subcontractors within the project. Zulu, for instance, is said to run a security company operating at the project.

Then the housing allocation process began. The agreement made by the community as a whole was that the elderly residents would get the first houses that were built, followed by long-term Joe Slovo residents. The remaining houses would later go to newer residents that had moved into Joe Slovo in recent years.

Yet, according to former Task Team member Mzimasi Ntwanambi, this allocation process was never followed. The Task Team apparently changed its strategy and allegedly began allocating the new houses to friends, to family, and to people who never resided in Joe Slovo but were willing to pay them a fee.

Those said to have drawn up new allocation lists that contradicted the older City list are Task Team members Zulu, Zikali and Dlamini, with the help of Housing Development Agency (HDA – formerly the infamous Thubelisha Homes) representatives known as Bongani and Thulani. The group is said to be behind the bulk of the housing misallocation in the project. Interestingly, Bongani and Thulani are also named by Abahlali baseMjondolo as being involved in the selling of temporary structures in the HDA-managed Langa Intersite.

As Cindy Ketani, an Abahlali activist, remarked, “I'm not surprised when they [the Joe Slovo community] are complaining, because we have experienced the same problem of corruption - where HDA works directly with the Intersite committee to sell temporary houses.”

In September, after most of the Task Team was among the first group of community members to be allocated homes, the Daily Maverick was present at a spontaneous protest by hundreds of residents who converged on the new home of Task Team chairperson Sifiso Mapasa. Then in December 2012, some disgruntled residents met with MEC Madikizela, who promised to immediately investigate the allegations of corruption. (There seems to have been no follow-up by the MEC's office.) Tensions remained high and on 13 January, a section of the community elected a new committee called the Area Committee.

There were now three committees in Joe Slovo vying for power: the Task Team, the Residents’ Committee and the Area Committee.

When the Task Team was asked to step down for being “illegitimate” and because they “no longer lived in Joe Slovo but in the new houses”, an Area Committee member named Peko recounts that Mzwanele Zulu told the community that “I will leave Joe Slovo when I die. It doesn't matter if I live in Joe Slovo or not. I am the leader here.”

(However, when the Daily Maverick spoke to Zulu, he turned the tables, accusing the Area Committee of lacking popular support except only amongst “a small minority of the community”. Zulu alleges that this new committee is causing problems and stalling development because they are “power-hungry”.)

Then everything came to a head. The Area Committee heard through the grapevine that the Task Team was going to demolish Chris Hani Hall – a structure built years ago to act as a community meeting-place for residents. When the Task Team moved into their new houses, they stopped holding meetings in the hall. During the day, it was then taken over by a crèche. By night, the hall became a place to hold Area Committee and community meetings.

Zulu explained the need to demolish the hall to make way for a road that would be extended through the settlement. Yet Area Committee members, upset that the community was not informed about this, retort that the road will not be built for at least a year and that surrounding shacks were not yet slated to be demolished. Why the hall? They say the real reason for the destruction of Chris Hani Hall was to prevent their committee from being able to meet.

On Tuesday morning, the Area Committee mobilised community members against the destruction of the hall. Zulu and Zikali of the Task Team arrived and then drove off. Only ten minutes later, six Law Enforcement and four SAPS vehicles arrived. In front of the community, Mzimasi recounts hearing an official speaking to Zikali over the phone. Area Committee leadership was said to have been named for arrest. Peko was identified as “the one who is wearing a Springbok t-shirt”.

As Mzimasi tells it, when the community resisted the demolition of the hall, Peko was grabbed, slapped around, pepper-sprayed and put into a Law Enforcement bakkie.

Photo: Police assaulting Peko, an Area Committee member.

Siyabonga Magcida was also grabbed and as photo evidence suggests, possibly choked by police. An entire can of pepper-spray is said to have been used on him as he tried to get out of the bakkie. As further punishment, Siyabonga was punched and kicked and had the bakkie's back door slammed repeatedly on his legs. Further photo evidence taken by two eyewitnesses and in possession of the Daily Maverick suggests these allegations of police brutality have merit.

Photo: Law Enforcement forcing Siyabonga Magcida into a police van where he is allegedly assulted and has the door slammed repeatedly on his legs.

While Peko was able to escape the bakkie when community members distracted police by throwing rocks, Siyabonga was out cold and wasn't so lucky. He was taken to Langa police station and then for a quick visit to Vanguard Clinic before getting locked up once again at the station. For at least five hours, Siyabonga's family was not allowed to visit him. Once he was seen by family, his condition was so bad that they were able to convince the station commissioner to send him to the hospital. Owing to the severity of his injuries, he was immediately transferred on arrival from Somerset Hospital to Groote Schuur.