Cape Town - Residents of Lwandle in Cape Town made a community hall their home on Wednesday after their shacks were set alight and destroyed during their eviction.
Around 300 people, mostly women, huddled under blankets and chatted at the Nomzamo community hall in Strand.
Their children seemed oblivious to the disruption and bounced across the floor on multicoloured rubber balls with handles, screeching with delight.
Their eviction began on Monday and continued into Tuesday.
The SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), the owner of the land, was granted an eviction order by the Western Cape High Court earlier this year.
For 37-year-old Nomfondu Mdingi, her daughter, and four-year-old grandchild, the eviction cost her a home, her possessions, and possibly even her job.
She said she saw police confiscating suitcases and even money off people over the past two days.
“They burnt our shack and took food, clothes, and even my grandchild's school uniform.”
Mdingi, who works as a fryer at a fast food outlet in Strand, said she phoned her boss to explain why she would not be at work.
“I called my boss and said we are in trouble but she didn't believe me,” she said.
Mdingi would find out later on Wednesday whether she still had a job.
“I'm worried because I'm homeless.”
Thembakazi Qhubinkomo, 33, was in the same predicament.
Wearing her work outfit underneath a warm coat, she said she was angry and sad that everything had been taken away from her.
Her employers had asked for proof of her shack being destroyed and she had to take a cellphone photo of the remains.
She said Sanral had warned them about the evictions but had not told them when it would happen.
“We didn't know when so we just left our stuff and when we came back nothing was there.”
Qhubinkomo had moved to the piece of land three months earlier because she had been staying with family in Zola and wanted her own home.
Her four children - aged 15, 11, two, and 8-months-old - were still with her mother in the Eastern Cape.
“You can't stay with children in a shack because it's cold and it can be burned at any time,” she said.
Those who had been evicted received food at the hall.
“There are around 800 people but we are catering hot meals, blankets, and mattresses for 1000 people,” said disaster risk management centre spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes.
They could only remain at the hall until Sunday.
Earlier on Wednesday, the transport department said the evictions should be put on hold.
“Minister (Dipuo) Peters undertook to issue a directive to Sanral to withdraw the court order while short- and long-term solutions are sought to resolve the challenges at hand,” spokesman Tiyani Ponto-Rikhotso said in a statement.
“To this effect, the affected families would be allowed to return to the land they were evicted from pending discussions regarding long-term solutions to their challenges.”
Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said, while the people would be allowed to settle temporarily, government did not encourage illegal occupation of land.
“We must be very clear, we do not encourage illegal occupation of land, it is the inhumane way in which children and women are being removed during winter that we are concerned about. The people will have to move out of the land when necessary arrangements are made,” Sisulu said.
The African National Congress welcomed the intervention by Peters and Sisulu.
ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said their intervention would help residents return to the land while alternative land for lawful accommodation was found.
“The ANC in the Western Cape will work with the community to ensure that the unfortunate occurrence is never repeated,” he said.
Sisulu said an inquiry would be established to investigate all processes and procedures followed by all involved until the removal was authorised by the high court and subsequently implemented this week.
Her spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya said Sisulu would visit the area on Wednesday to see what assistance government could give those affected.
“She will visit the area today (Wednesday) to look at how to resolve the problem,” he said.
She was expected to appoint a chair for the inquiry before Sunday, he said.
“The minister wants this to be completed as soon as possible.”
City mayoral committee member for human settlements Siyabulela Mamkeli said Sanral and the national government had tried to distort the situation to blame the city for the evictions.
“It is Sanral and the Sheriff that need to answer as to why they timed the enforcement of said interdict in the middle of a major storm,” he said, referring to a cold front that hit the city on Wednesday morning.
Mamkeli said the city had proactively asked Sanral to manage their land and had asked permission to provide additional services, which was refused.
“We urged Sanral to purchase a suitable land parcel to accommodate the people who had illegally invaded their land,” he said.
“At no stage did the city's dispute with Sanral over the proposed toll on the N2 stop them from purchasing alternative land.”