Group allegedly fronting as Operation Dudula evicts vulnerable dwellers of Joburg’s ‘building of darkness’
A group supposedly posing as members of Operation Dudula has evicted more than 200 people from a privately owned derelict building, which has been home to over 400 occupants — mostly migrants. Many are people living with disabilities and are wheelchair-bound, while others are visually impaired. The eviction comes after months of threats of eviction directed at the occupants by Dudula.
On the morning of 17 December, the group — which allegedly identified itself as Operation Dudula — is believed to have evicted more than 60 people with disabilities (predominantly blind) and more than 200 women and children from a derelict building in the City of Johannesburg’.
The eviction comes after months of ongoing threats of eviction directed at occupants of the building by Operation Dudula — an anti-immigration group that sprang up in and around Soweto a year ago which has been accused of fuelling xenophobic sentiments.
The building in question was initially home to more than 400 people — including people living with disabilities, most of whom were migrants. However, earlier this year the number dropped to less than 300 following Dudula’s threats and fear of attacks and deportations which led to some occupants packing up and fleeing.
On Monday, 8 August 2022, a letter written by Operation Dudula was sent to the building’s occupants, serving as illicit notice to oust the occupants and laying out reasons for wanting to remove them.
While the five days’ notice was not acted on it was followed by several threats which saw some of the building occupants flee the building and allegedly the country.
Daily Maverick, however, reached out to Operation Dudula’s Jeppe branch for comment on the evictions. Sifiso Nkosi and a man identified only as “Sello” both denied carrying out the eviction last weekend.
“We have heard about the evictions but that was not Dudula,” said Sello.
They both claimed their branch had not been engaging in any activity since their leader “Siya” was shot dead by alleged gangsters in Limpopo during the launch of a Dudula branch in the Sekhukhune district in October.
No safety, no protection
Explaining what happened on the day of the eviction, Richard Ramzi, one of the occupants told Daily Maverick, “On Saturday a group of people who identified themselves as Operation Dudula came to our building armed and ousted everyone from the building together with their belongings.
“We tried to show them a letter written by our legal representative, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) which prohibits any eviction. But they would not listen and forcefully dragged people out and barred anyone from entering the building. On Sunday the group came back again at midnight armed to further victimise people from the park opposite the building where they had sought refuge. They were beating up people and stole some belongings.”
Ramzi said on Sunday occupants approached the Jeppe Police station to open cases of intimidation, assault and theft of their belongings but an officer at the station refused to open any case stating they are tired of foreign nationals and “why are they not going back to their home countries”.
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Ramzi added it is not the first time they have been prevented from opening cases by officers at Jeppe police station.
However, Jeppe police station has denied the allegations.
The station’s spokesperson, Richard Munyai, told Daily Maverick there is no record of reports of harassment or intimidation by those living in the building, and for that reason, they are not able to do anything.
However, Munyai did acknowledge he saw the occupants and their belongings outside the building on Monday afternoon.
Munyai added, “What I know about the building is that the occupants were illegal and that it is a dilapidated building which can collapse at any time. The majority of people who have been staying there are not South African, 99% are Zimbabweans and street beggars. Though I don’t think Dudula had the right to evict them, that building had been hijacked.”
Commenting on Jeppe police station’s response, executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri), Nomzamo Zondo, said, “The police have been openly associating and, at times, acting alongside Operation Dudula, a fact that the police seek to understate. This is our perceived reason for their lack of cooperation. Our advice has been to record all engagement with the police and follow the line of command even going as far as the province where necessary. This advice is a hard pill to swallow when police recalcitrance leaves residents without recourse.”
The building occupants were rendered homeless after the alleged Operation Dudula members evicted them from the building.
While driving past the building on Monday Daily Maverick spotted a few occupants packing belongings into trucks. Most of the occupants were either sitting or sleeping while the children played on the park pavement where they had found refuge just outside the public toilets. Meanwhile, business continued as usual as commuters bustled at an adjacent long-distance taxi rank.
Alluding to their life of homelessness, another occupant of the building, Lazarus Chinhara said, “We are in a very pitiful situation. Groceries and Christmas clothes for our loved ones which were meant to be sent in the week were stolen. We have nowhere to stay and trying to find a place to stay is a challenge because we don’t have money as the little we had was also stolen in the eviction process. So we might be staying in the streets for some time.”
Meanwhile, human rights organisations such as the LRC and Seri have said they received reports of the unlawful eviction.
The LRC which acts on behalf of the occupants said they are currently deliberating on how best to assist the occupiers. The LRC added that they doubt the owner of the building is even aware of the eviction.
Commenting on the eviction, former Methodist Bishop of Johannesburg Paul Verryn told Daily Maverick that the eviction of the occupants is in contempt of the law of evictions.
Verryn opened the doors of the church as a refuge for Zimbabweans for more than a decade, particularly during the wave of xenophobic violence that shook South Africa in 2008. At the end of 2014, Verryn stepped down from his position at the church and a decision was taken that the foreign nationals should find a new place to live.
“Whether they are foreign nationals or not, the law in this country is quite specific that we may not evict people into homelessness which is what they have done. To particularly victimise anyone including the disabled, women and small children is a gross violation of human rights.” DM/MC