Maverick Citizen

LAND EVICTIONS

Not so fast: City of Tshwane briefly retreats as Mushroomville waste pickers hold ground over forced removal court order non-compliance

Mushroomville residents drag their suitcases along a muddy pathway in preparation for their relocation on 15 November 2021, Centurion, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

On Monday, Tshwane Metro, SAPS, private security and the Sheriff were ready to relocate the Mushroomville waste pickers — a community of more than 180 people, including 25 families, to Sunderland Ridge despite officials at the time failing to comply with the court order’s particulars. Maverick Citizen spent the morning in Mushroomville monitoring the relocation. This is what happened.

It is 15 November 2021 at 8am in Mushroomville, Centurion. The community of more than 180 waste pickers have not gone to work as they await their fate: an eviction scheduled for today. Along 296 West Avenue, Tshwane Metro, SAPS, private security, City of Tshwane, department of home affairs, the Sheriff, one tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB) as well as a tipper truck can be seen. They are ready to begin what the community anticipates as their long-awaited eviction. 

At this point, early in the day, the officials have not said a word to the community. 

Inside Mushroomville, the mood is sombre; one can sense and see the feelings of fear and despair on some residents’ faces. Others are in a state of panic, trying to pack up before they are even ordered to do so.

Community leader, Sipho Msiza holds a black plastic whistle which he says he uses to summon the community to meetings in the centre of Mushroomville. Msiza says he wants to remind and encourage the residents of the relocation to refrain from violence. 

Sipho Msiza stands in front of his home made of their recyclables on-site in Mushroomville, opposite the Centurion SuperSport Cricket Stadium, next to the Hennops River, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

Addressing the crowd that has gathered Msiza says; “My good people, the day has come. As we all know, today is the relocating day and the city is already here with the sheriffs. Please be ready and pack all your valuables so that when the sheriff and transport come in we are ready, ke kopa le seke laba loantša (and please do not fight them).”

Msiza’s address is later interrupted by loud voices insisting that he relays a plea on behalf of the community for 30 more days to sell all their recyclables. 

The loudest of them all is Dora Metsini’s voice saying, “We know our time is over here. We are not fighting the relocation, we just need a bit of time to sell everything so we can have a little income to survive on the other side and send some for our children back at home.”

Father, daughter and granddaughter await relocations, Mushroomville, Centurion, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)
(Family did not want their names with photograph)

Another cried, “It is ridiculous to kick a dog when it’s down. The city can see we are desperate and poor. If we had another option to be elsewhere or do a better job we would jump at the opportunity. But we have nothing and without recycling we are nothing. We are being moved like animals no one cares what we will eat on the other side … I guess we will die of hunger.”

It’s 9am and still, the relocation is not being actioned. The community’s lawyer, Louise du Plessis from Lawyers for Human Rights, approaches City representatives to ask them what they are here for? 

Tshwane Metro department and the City of Tshwane Sheriffs ready to relocate the Mushroomville community to Sunderland Ridge, Centurion, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

According to Du Plessis, their response is they have come to relocate 66 Mushroomville residents to the 40 units already available in Sunderland Ridge. They say the rest of the community will be relocated by the end of the week when the other 69 units are ready.

On hearing this the Mushroomville community rejects the arrangement. Msiza says: “The community prefers to be moved as a collective as per the court order. We also have a plea to be given 30 more days to sell all our recyclable materials before being moved since we are not allowed to move with them and this is for the income to survive that side.”

Waste pickers load their recyclables into a client’s truck, Centurion, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

Du Plessis said the City has no legal right to move the community because, up to this point, they have not complied with the court order. Explaining the non-compliance to Maverick Citizen, Du Plessis says the court order obliges the City to:

  • Erect no less than 109 temporary housing units in Sunderland Ridge;
  • Provide access control and an ongoing security plan to prevent invasion or any unlawful activities or threats;
  • Provide 10 chemical toilets;
  • Provide five water points and no less than one water point; and
  • Assist the community with relocation by providing transportation.

However, by Monday — the initial relocation date, only 40 units, eight chemical toilets, one security guard and a 110-litre JoJo tank had been supplied in Sunderland Ridge. 

From Voortrekker Road, one can see the units lined in a uniformed sequence and directly opposite the units,there is a convoy of vehicles that doubles as a taxi rank. Each unit is 20m2  in size, constructed from polycarbonate material, with a window and a main switch and a circuit. The units are closely packed together.

The temporary units built for the Mushroomville community in Sunderland Ridge, Centurion, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

They are organised in four rows made of 10 units facing each to form a square shape. In the middle of these is a 110-litre JoJo tank positioned in the middle and dusty pathways leading off to allow for movement. Behind one row, against a firm wall lie the eight chemical toilets. They are divided — four on each side.

The 110-litre JoJo tank in the midst of the temporary units built in Sunderland Ridge meant to sustain the Mushroomville waste pickers during their six-month stay. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

A standoff ensued, but by 10:45am the Tshwane Metro, Sheriff, Home Affairs, private security and SAPS were seen leaving Mushroomville in dribs and drabs. By 11:30am, 296 West Avenue was clear. The officials were all gone.

At the end of a tense morning, Du Plessis told the Mushromville community: “Today was more of an intimidation, we have managed to get them out of the way with the point on court order compliance. But they will be back later in the week once the pending units are ready. Please get your stuff ready. I will talk to them and see if we can’t work out a relocation plan so it can happen in an orderly fashion.” DM/MC

Eight of these toilets are to be shared by the community of more than 180 waste pickers, Centurion, Gauteng. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

This is an ongoing story. Maverick Citizen will continue reporting on the fate that awaits the community of Mushroomville in the coming days.

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