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Durban - Close to a thousand displaced shack dwellers who have begun clearing land along Sherwood and Cato Crest with the intention of living there have escalated their demands that the eThekwini Municipality provide them with houses – or face their wrath.
Yesterday, angry shack dwellers continued to chop down trees and remove bush in open tracts of land along Mary Thipe Road (Cato Manor) and King Cetshwayo (Jan Smuts) Highway after their shacks were demolished last week to make way for a housing development in Cato Crest.
The land being cleared near King Cetshwayo Highway, which also borders Piedmont Road, has been dubbed “Marikana” by the invaders, after the scene of last year’s Lonmin mine massacre. They are determined not to be moved.
The invasion comes as members of Parliament said yesterday that they were “sick to the stomach” when they heard that R886 million had not been spent by the Human Settlements Department (full story on Page 2).
The eThekwini Municipality is facing an uphill battle in providing housing to more than 410 000 people living in 150 000 shacks. There are also 11 000 families living in transit camps in eThekwini.
Recent figures provided by the Department of Human Settlements show there are 636 informal settlements in KwaZulu-Natal, 484 of them in eThekwini.
According to residents of nearby Manor Gardens, the banging and chopping went on throughout the night on Tuesday.
“It was a mad racket,” said a resident of Rif Road who feared being named. “We called the municipality and the police, but the noise and cutting down of the beautiful trees just did not stop.
“It would be a tragedy if they were allowed to clear one of the last green belts in this area, for shacks.”
On Tuesday, a mob armed with pangas and spades attacked a councillor’s house in Cato Crest and also damaged a council office and an earth moving tractor.
Yesterday there was a large police presence at the Cato Crest settlement where several city officials met leaders of the land invaders.
According to Cato Crest Residents Association president, Thembinkosi Qumbelo, officials from eThekwini warned the crowd to stop clearing the forest or face going to jail.
Also discussed was the invasion on Tuesday night of 18 nearly complete council flats in Cato Crest.
Qumbelo said the invaders were chased away by people whose shacks had been demolished to make way for the flats, and who felt they had a stronger claim to the new homes.
“The situation is very tense. Residents were not given an alternative accommodation after their shacks were demolished for the project. Part of the houses had been completed, but not allocated to those on the waiting list,” he said.
“We have been told that invaders came from as far as Chesterville, Bhambayi and uMlazi.
“They want to seize the opportunity to own a house. It is a complex issue,” Qumbelo said.
“Some of the people were from the nearby Wards 29/30.”
He said the failure of the area committee to consult adequately with the people whose shacks had been demolished and those paying rent to “shack landlords” had fuelled the land invasions.
On a visit to the multibillion-rand Cornubia housing development near uMhlanga earlier this year, members of the city’s executive committee expressed concern about the never-ending shack problem.
“The mushrooming of informal settlements is a challenge for the city to beef up its land invasion control,” chairman of the city’s human settlement committee, Nigel Gumede, reportedly said.