Durban - As rain fell on Thursday, more than 60 families gathered around dying embers, preparing the dinner they would eat under the trees along Howell Road in Sydenham, after being evicted from their homes last month.
For some of the children whose parents were not present, the rain presented an opportunity to play in the mud, while others huddled in blankets to keep warm. Mattresses and cupboards that once lined the small beige houses were stacked outside, covered only by tarp held down by bricks.
The former Howell Road residents have been without shelter since August 22, when the Red Ants - a security company hired by eThekwini Municipality - stormed the complex to carry out evictions.
At the time, violent protests erupted, as residents refused to leave the complex while the Red Ants fired rubber bullets and used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
The dire conditions of the mostly low-income families follow a dispute with rental company First Metro Housing (FMH) over ownership of the units. The evictions of over 60 families were carried out last month after FMH filed a notice to some residents to vacate their premises as they had not paid rent.
A representative of the evicted families, Patrick Xolani, who moved into a single unit in 2004, said he and many others were under the impression the houses were for sale on a rent-to-own scheme, likened to that of the Reconstruction and Development Programme.
The matter between the evicted group of residents and FMH is at the Durban High Court.
Meanwhile, residents are mourning the passing of “dear granny” Mary King. 88. She died last week after a stroke which her neighbours say was brought on by the stress of the evictions.
“They targeted an old lady, what kind of humanity is that?” said Leonard Adams, who is among the group that has been evicted. Others showed dark marks on their bodies where rubber bullets had hit them.
Adams, who has now been tasked to prepare meals for the evictees in a single pot outside an abandoned unit, expressed outrage at eThekwini Municipality’s multimillion rand projects across the city, which he believes is a display of ignorance of the crisis at Howell Road.
“There are developments worth thousands coming up and we are still without a home,” he said, serving rice to a neighbour as the former Howell Road Estate occupants settled in for another gloomy night.
According to eThekwini Municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa, FMH is an accredited social housing institution, and while the Municipality can advise the institution, they cannot interfere in its administration processes.
Zandile Gumede, eThekwini mayor, said she was addressing the matter to ensure no one felt overlooked in the country.