Durban - More than 300 people were left out in the cold on Sunday night after the eThekwini Municipality destroyed shacks in Cato Crest and Lamontville.
Angry Cato Crest residents went on the rampage, barricading Owen (Cato) Avenue with burning rubbish bins, trees and boulders.
Motorists were turned away while public order police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
About 48 families were left without shelter after their homes were destroyed.
While this was happening, some were scrounging for material to begin rebuilding their homes.
In Madlala Village in Lamontville, about 50 families were left without shelter.
eThekwini Municipality spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said regular operations were conducted to stop land invasions.
“We respect the decisions of the courts and always act within the confines of the law in conducting our operations. But it must be noted that the ruling of the Constitutional Court did not give a blanket permission for people to invade land,” he said.
Ndabo Mzimela, secretary of shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo, said residents had pleaded with officials of the city’s land invasion unit to spare their homes, but to no avail.
“Our plea fell on deaf ears. We asked him to stop or at least show us a court eviction order, but he refused, claiming he does not take orders from us,” he said.
Mzimela said the demolition happened despite the Durban High Court granting Abahlali six court orders last year interdicting the municipality from evicting people.
“Furthermore, the Constitutional Court ruled against the eviction. It ordered the matter be brought back to the high court for discussion,” Mzimela said.
DA eThekwini caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango, said he had tried to contact the mayor to ask for alternative shelter for the shack-dwellers.
The DA and Abahlali signed a memorandum of agreement before last month’s elections pledging mutual support.
“This is totally inhumane. It is sheer arrogance. There have been court orders preventing such evictions,” Mncwango said.
“But the land invasion unit has decided to act against the law. They have destroyed the little that these people had.”
He said he would write to Eugene Khoza, head of the metro police, requesting a copy of the eviction order.
“The eThekwini Municipality is legally bound to obtain an eviction order from a high court when conducting evictions for any reason.
“The high court will ensure that the rights of the affected will be protected and that any eviction is sensitive to the dignity of all people,” Mncwango said.
Cato Crest residents said heavily armed metro police officers were on standby, watching the demolition.
A mother-of-two, Sibongile Somdizela, 32, was left with only a fridge after her furniture and other possessions were destroyed.
“I do not have a shelter to sleep with my boys. I am digging in rubble to locate my ID book and other documents. They (officials) insulted us, saying we should go back to eMampondweni in the Eastern Cape,” Somdizela said.
Abahlali claimed the settlement in Lamontville had been similarly affected.
“This is a war on the poor who are standing up for their rights,” said a spokesman.
“Kennedy Road residents were attacked in 2009 after their victory in the Constitutional Court.
“Now residents of Cato Crest and Madlala Village are under attack after their victory.”
David Mkhize, a community leader in Lamontville, said the mood in the settlement was angry but quiet.
“We no longer have water or electricity. We’ve lost everything,” Mkhize said.
He said every person had lost possessions in addition to their homes. “If the things have not been destroyed, they’ve been vandalised.”
He said the group was considering legal action against the municipality.
Mzamo Majozi, of the same organisation in Cato Crest, said people in the area had abandoned protest action and were focussing on rebuilding.
He said people had been lighting fires to keep warm.
“We don’t even have a blanket,” he said.