Judgment a victory for 38 families

By Daily News Reporter Time of article published Sep 20, 2012

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The Durban High Court had sent a clear message to the eThekwini Municipality that it could no longer “dump people in transit camps” but should instead provide them with proper houses, the shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, said.

The movement’s chairman, Sbu Zikode, was reacting after the court on Wednesday upheld a 2009 court order that obliged the city to provide proper houses to the 38 families of the Siyanda informal settlement in KwaMashu who were forcibly removed from their shacks and placed in transit camps to make way for the construction of a road three years ago.

Acting judge Nigel Hollis gave the municipality 90 days yesterday to “take all necessary steps” to ensure the Siyanda residents were provided with proper houses. The residents took the municipality to court with the assistance of Abahlali and the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.

Zikode said the court order was not just a victory for the people of Siyanda.

“This is a victory for every resident who has been uprooted by the municipality and put in those shiny government-built shacks,” he said. “Those government shacks were meant to be transit housing, but people have been thrown into them with empty promises. This court judgment means that people who have been put in those so-called transit camps can go to the court to force the municipality to provide them with proper and decent housing.”

In 2009, residents of the settlement were evicted from their shacks by the Department of Transport and relocated to transit camps to make way for the construction of Dumisani Makhaye Drive.

Despite opposition from the shack dwellers’ movement, an eviction order was granted on March 6, 2009, and the residents were relocated less than two weeks later.

The court order, however, stated that all basic services must be provided in the transit camps, and that the residents be moved to formal houses within 12 months. More than three years later, Abahlali said residents had no water, electricity or sanitation, and were still waiting for houses.

Zikode said that there were thousands of other people who were forced into transit camps across the city with the promise that they would stay in them for no more than 18 months. “But there are people who have been living in them for up to six years now.”

Thabo Mofokeng, the municipality’s spokesman, said the city was studying the judgment. “We are looking at the implications of the judgment and will be seeking legal advice. Thereafter we will decide on a way forward,” he said.

Mofokeng said the city had not yet decided if it planned to appeal against the judgment.

Abahlali’s general secretary, Bandile Madlalose, welcomed the ruling. “We have waited a long time for this. We never doubted that we would win. We have taken the municipality to court before and have won.

“We will continue taking the municipality to court and we will continue to win until there are no more shacks in Durban. We now have a court order, which, if it is not complied with, we will ensure that the mayor is arrested for contempt of court,” she said.

At a recent service delivery meeting in Mariannridge, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo said the city faced a major housing crisis.

He said the municipality faced a huge challenge of providing houses to people who migrated in their thousands every year to the metro from rural areas in search of work.

This, he said, created a situation where there were more than 500 informal settlements across eThekwini and more than 400 000 people in need of houses. “We build 16 000 units a year, which is not enough,” Nxumalo told residents at the time. “It is a drop in the ocean.”

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