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Racial tensions brew in Nigel over housing occupation

Racial tensions brew in Nigel over housing occupation
The Snake Park informal settlement, where many approved beneficiaries for RDP houses still live, because the houses they were meant to get were left incomplete for years and were eventually occupied by other people. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

The eviction of people from RDP houses has highlighted a racial dimension to the tensions sparked by the ‘mess’ created by the government, according to one of the unlawful occupiers.

About 500 families unlawfully occupying a failed RDP housing project since 2019 in Mackenzieville Extension 2, Nigel, have so far withstood attempts by the City of Ekurhuleni to evict them. However, their continued occupation has led to tensions with the approved beneficiaries of the housing project. The tensions are also partly racial, since the occupiers are mostly coloured former backyarders from Alra Park, while the legal beneficiaries are mostly black shack dwellers from Snake Park.

On 28 February, the City moved against the occupiers and forcefully evicted them, but without the sheriff. It then had to reinstate the occupiers the same day by order of Judge Stuart Wilson in the Johannesburg High Court.

Lawyers representing the occupiers have persistently argued that 2,000 people cannot be evicted without any alternative accommodation being offered.

The City’s application for leave to appeal against that order was dismissed on Friday, 17 March. The City had argued that Judge Wilson had “no authority or powers to interfere with the judgment of another judge in the same level or a court of equal standing”. It said the eviction had been carried out as directed by Judge Edwin Molahleni in an order made in July 2021, and that the matter had been finalised when the court dismissed a previous application by the occupiers for leave to appeal against the eviction.

The City also argued that the high court had no jurisdiction to grant the relief sought by the occupiers – the emergency alternative accommodation.

But Judge Wilson dismissed the City’s application for leave to appeal with costs.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Rubber bullets fired as over 2,000 people evicted ‘without warning’ from Nigel RDP housing occupation

The judge reaffirmed that the eviction was illegal. He had previously also suspended the original 2021 eviction order, pending a further hearing. That matter is now awaiting judgment. The court has therefore not yet ruled on the issue of alternative accommodation.

Zweli Dlamini, spokesperson for the City, said: “We contemplate appealing the judgment as it denies rightful beneficiaries of their houses. It further does not take into consideration the implication of occupying incomplete houses.”

The City had “not yet” re-engaged with the beneficiaries after the failed eviction.

Koos Dewee says he moved with his family to Snake Park 22 years ago and he was meant to get a house in the Mackenzieville development. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

The occupiers are expecting the City to be compelled to provide alternative accommodation, while some are still hoping to remain in the houses they have made their homes in the four years since the Greater Nigel United People’s Parliament led the occupation.

But the legal beneficiaries living in Snake Park informal settlement say they were disappointed to hear that the eviction of 28 February was done illegally.

“The law seems to be favouring the occupiers. What about us, the residents, who have been squatting patiently in Snake Park? We have over 200 families who were approved to get houses in the Mackenzieville Extension 2 Project and some were given happy letters with their house numbers,” said Lindiwe Mkwanazi, a community representative and one of the approved beneficiaries.

“The problem is that most of the coloureds living in Alra Park refused to live in squatter camps and remained in the comfort of backyard rooms. Us, who suffered in the squatter camp, deserve the houses. The court should also think about us and evict the illegal occupiers,” she said.

Mkwanazi said she tried to get another house, but the housing department refused her application, saying she had already been approved for a house in Mackenzieville. She is now in limbo.

“The same applies to all the other beneficiaries in Snake Park,” she said. “The government will not allocate them houses elsewhere.”

Read more in Daily Maverick:After decades living in Nigel apartheid rental flats, tenants want title deeds

“If the City of Ekurhuleni does not have alternative accommodation, let the occupiers move into our Snake Park shacks so that we can move into the RDP houses,” suggested Thandi Mahlangu, who said she has waited for 25 years for an RDP house and is still living in a leaking shack.

“For a long time we have hesitated to go and drag those people out ourselves, because the law is failing us,” said Anna Keswa. “The coloureds should learn to live in squatter camps like other people if they want houses.”

A year ago most parts of Snake Park were “reblocked” and electrified. But the shack dwellers say water is scarce and they rely on the municipality to bring in water tankers. Elderly residents also complain that the land is rocky and uneven and difficult for them to get around.

Clinton Thomson, one of the Mackenzieville occupiers, said: “Our government has succeeded in dividing us as a people because we are now fighting against each other because of the mess it created. It remains a fact that as coloureds we have been marginalised for too long in the new dispensation and blacks got houses. The bottom line is that both us and the people in Snake Park need houses. The government should provide all of us with houses and fix the problems it created.” DM

First published by GroundUp.


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