South Africa

GROUNDUP

A patch of carpet is all that’s left of evicted man’s Johannesburg home

A patch of carpet is all that’s left of evicted man’s Johannesburg home
Dean Phiri stands where his shack used to be, holding a piece of paper with his son’s homework. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

Dean Phiri was one of a few who lost their shacks in a recent Randburg demolition.

Dean Phiri stands on a small patch of carpet where his shack used to be, on a field at the Alberts Farm Conservancy. Not much is left of his possessions after Johannesburg Metro Police Department, SAPS and a private security company tore his shack down on 30 August.

He picks up a scrap of paper with numbers on it, from his son’s homework. Phiri says his ten-year-old son used to visit him and they would do homework together. But he no longer has a home where his son can visit.

Phiri is one of 28 people who were living in the historic Alberts Farm Conservancy park next to Randburg. They have been battling against City of Johannesburg, SAPS, metro police and private homeowners in the area for more than a year.

Inside the park are old graves belonging to the Alberts family, previous owners of the land.

Seeking damages

The residents, who have been evicted twice without a court order, are now seeking constitutional “damages” of R5,000 each from the City of Johannesburg for unlawful conduct. The case will be heard on Thursday. 

Some have lived there for several years. They fetch water from a nearby stream to wash, and cook on open fires.

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Phiri, who previously lived in Newlands, says he lost his mechanical engineering job four years ago and has not been able to find another one. Recycling is his new source of income.

He says the police took some new clothes, which he was keeping for his son, toys and some things of sentimental value. Since losing his shack, he sleeps in the open.

“I like it here, it’s peaceful and it’s the only place l can be close to my son. The people we live with are friendly,” said Phiri, adding that he and the others “meant no harm”.

“The place they destroyed was my mansion. I had everything there. What will l tell my son when he finds his things gone?”

Also living in the park is Russell Mpofu, originally from Zimbabwe, who is a waste picker. He used to work in the construction industry, but it all ended with the pandemic. He had been living in his shack for six months when it was destroyed. In the shack, he kept old phones, a laptop, clothes, toiletries and his mattress. Outside he kept his recycling material. He had gone to Westbury to visit his children when the demolitions took place.

“I had expensive clothes in my shack too, and some gadgets which l got from generous people I sometimes do gardening for. Now l have nothing,” said Mpofu. DM

This article was first published by Ground Up.

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