Coalition politics

The EFF, Mayor Bobani and Nelson Mandela Bay’s public land occupations

By Greg Nicolson 6 March 2019

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Mongameli Bobani interacts with elated residents of KwaNobuhle on 18 January 2019 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Bobani was treated like a hero after he ordered the return of building materials that were confiscated during an illegal eviction by municipal members. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Lulama Zenzile)

Occupy public land in Nelson Mandela Bay and you won’t be forcefully removed. The EFF managed to implement the policy in the city, which critics say is undermining its long-term plans.

The EFF emerged as kingmakers in Johannesburg and Tshwane in 2016 and by working with the DA-led administrations has been able to achieve a number of its manifesto commitments, such as insourcing City workers and extending clinic opening hours.

It’s in Nelson Mandela Bay, however, where the party may have won its most symbolic victory — halting the eviction of those who illegally occupy municipal land.

Such a stance, as the EFF, for us it’s a victory and it shows we have influence in the country,” said EFF Nelson Mandela Bay spokesperson Luvuyo Ponase.

The EFF is actively encouraging and assisting residents to occupy City-owned land in Nelson Mandela Bay while Mayor Mongameli Bobani, backed by a council resolution, has assured land occupiers they will not be forcefully removed.

It’s a general blanket approach,” said Ponase. “The reality of the matter is people will not be removed from the land. There will not be any evictions. Their materials will not be taken.”

EFF leader Julius Malema has repeatedly encouraged people to occupy land and the party’s 2019 election manifesto centres on access to land and jobs.

The party was able to push its policy in Nelson Mandela Bay after the EFF and ANC voted to remove DA mayor Athol Trollip in August 2018 and elect the UDM’s Bobani.

Municipalities are often quick to act on land occupations across the country, deploying police to disperse people and demolish structures before they are completed.

Bobani had condemned forceful evictions before being elected and the EFF had warned the new mayor to stop them or follow Trollip’s exit.

While Bobani has tacitly supported land occupations, the City does not. It has a unit to combat illegal occupations and is struggling to balance the conflicting short-term demands of those who occupy municipal land with its long-term plans to provide housing to identified beneficiaries.

We are no different from government. The government says illegal occupation of land can’t be encouraged. It’s not right,” said City spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki.

Bobani did not respond to requests for comment, but Mniki said the mayor is against forceful removals and often reminds staff that people who occupy land are human beings. He wouldn’t comment on how Bobani contradicts the City’s policies.

In the old days, you remember, a bulldozer would just come and flatten everything,” said Mniki.

Now, when people occupy City land and erect structures, government officials are sent to explain the housing allocation process and tell people they are impeding development, as they sometimes build on land earmarked for housing. They try to persuade people to relocate to serviced stands or housing if it’s available and if they qualify.

Mniki said some people leave voluntarily. He wouldn’t comment on what happens if they refuse, saying the City would be guided by its council.

The EFF’s Ponase said the party does not want to cause chaos and encourages people to occupy “open spaces, spaces that have been zoned for further development”. The City and the EFF said they do not support occupations on privately owned land.

GroundUp has quoted Lukhanyo Banana, a leader of land occupations in Endlovini, suggesting people may look beyond municipal-owned land.

The mayor also assured us that we are doing the right thing and that we must occupy every space we see. Both the mayor and the EFF councillor promised they will bring us water and install electricity. There is an air of excitement in the area after the two leaders’ promises,” said Banana.

The occupations not only create challenges with implementing the City’s housing plans but have also led to clashes between existing landowners and occupiers.

It’s a serious balancing act,” said Mniki. “It does have a detrimental effect on planning, I won’t lie.”

Nqaba Bhanga, DA Eastern Cape leader and a Nelson Mandela Bay councillor, described a free-for-all that is undermining the City’s human settlements policies and assisting undeserving beneficiaries.

The situation right now is uncontrollable,” said Bhanga. “It’s bad for the city as Mr Bobani has just allowed people to do as they wish.

The problem here is the top — the mayor. How do we have a mayor who encourages people to do an illegal act?” he asked.

Bhanga said the DA-led government took a strong stance on land occupations.

We became the best in reacting and dealing with land invasions in South Africa.”

The City’s human settlements executive director Nolwandle Gqiba recently expressed frustration over the municipality’s conflicting positions on evictions.

We are now the worst municipality when it comes to land invasions and as much as we want to enact the (Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act), every time we go to the site and we have everything ready, all preparations have been done, the police are there and we are told to stop the eviction,” said Gqiba.

Daily Maverick was unable to reach local ANC leaders, but they have also expressed frustration at the haphazard process of land occupations and confusion over evictions.

The City has a housing backlog of around 72,000 units and everyone agrees there’s a dire shortage of housing opportunities and serviced stands where people can build their own homes.

Mniki said residents are “desperate” for land and invade properties because of the lack of transparency in allocations. The City hopes to calm some of that anger by publishing the housing waiting list, which Mniki said was imminent.

The main problem is many of the people that deserve houses don’t know whether they are on the list or not on the list,” said Bhanga.

The ordinary people who have been waiting for 20 to 25 years, most of them do not get to occupy their houses.”

That wait will continue, according to Bobani’s critics. The EFF says supporting municipal land occupations is the only way forward. And in Nelson Mandela Bay, the EFF’s voice matters. DM

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