Krugersdorp - The wooden wendy house stands a metre higher than the other shacks and makeshift shelters at a predominantly white squatter camp in Coronation Park, Krugersdorp, west of Joburg.
It belongs to 57-year-old Willie Britz. He shares his modest home with his two cats, Babakie and Marais.
Britz used to live in Klerksdorp with his wife and worked as a security guard. After his divorce he lost his job, his bakkie and all his money in two scams.
Homeless and penniless, Britz moved to Coronation Park two years ago, joining about 300 other illegal squatters.
“It’s difficult here; food and work are hard to come by and I struggle to find a job because I’m old,” he said.
Now Britz and all the other squatters are facing eviction.
Two weeks ago, an eviction order was granted by the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court. The squatters have been offered a piece of land in Munsieville, a nearby township, by the Mogale City municipality.
“We are scared to go there. People there have threatened to kill us if we do,” said Britz.
If squatters refuse to move by December, they would be in contempt of court. The squatters have been in a legal battle with Mogale City since 2009.
Nkosaza Zali, a Mogale City spokesman, said the council did not want to have that kind of situation on its hands. “It would be sad if we were to exercise our rights any other way than the current mutual engagement. They have been illegally occupying the public park for over 10 years.”
Everyday the park’s trees are chopped down for wood and heavy smoke fills the air. A naked flame licks the bottom of two pots next to a small tent. One pot has pap, the other mince.
Andre Kotze dishes up his supper. The 60-year-old has been living at the park for two years. He says old people will not be able to go to town for their pensions if they are relocated so far away.
“If the city can guarantee our safety, we could go. But we expect grounds big enough to build; we expect water, electricity and proper sanitation facilities, which the place doesn’t have,” said Kotze.
Irene van Niekerk, a community leader at the squatter camp, said people from Munsieville didn’t want them in their township.
“They said they will rape our women, necklace the men and burn down our houses if we are move there,” said Van Niekerk. “They were having a party here (in Coronation Park) and relieved themselves in the basins and urinated on the floors. They made racial slurs and threats, so we are afraid to go.”
The squatters would lose their sponsors. “They said they will withdraw from coming to bring donations because it is too dangerous to go to Munsieville,” she said. “We are not saying we won’t move. But wherever they move us to must be close to a hospital, schools, shops and public transport like here at the park. The dump yard in Munsieville is not a fair place.
“I’m not angry, my heart is broken,” said Van Niekerk, teary-eyed. “We have a little girl here who has a tumour on her brain. The land we’re being relocated to used to be a dumpsite. There isn’t even a single tree for us to chop wood for fires. We won’t be able to build structures there because the land is rock hard. Why do they (Mogale City) want to throw people to a dump yard like dogs? The court order doesn’t even allow us to take our crèche, church and soup kitchen when we relocate.”
Zali insists that the Munsieville is in close proximity to public amenities and convenience stores. He said the court order stated that evictions would start in November and be finalised in December, to accommodate schoolchildren and for a smooth relocation.
“It should also be understood that, unlike evictions that happen elsewhere in the country, ours is an organised and consultative process that has involved leaders of this community,” he said.
Zali said it should be noted that the city had engaged the squatters for about six years until a deadlock forced the municipality to seek legal assistance to resolve the stalemate. He said the council had not received any plea of objection from the squatters’ lawyers since the eviction process.
Coronation Park is being fenced off. This is the first stage as part of a project to revamp it for public use. Zali said that other stages would include resurfacing roads within the park, reconstructing the entrance point, constructing a new playground and animal farm, picnic sites, fountains and improving the landscaping.
The R22 million redevelopment plan is expected to continue until 2018, subject to grant allocations.