Durban - After a video surfaced at the weekend showing chaos in the Westcliff area in Chatsworth, Durban, anger settled on the community over the eThekwini Municipality’s use of force when they bulldozed an illegal structure and allegedly shot at people.
Eric Sihle and his wife Shivana Munisamy, who live in a municipal flat in Glenover Road in Westcliff, said that they were locked in a heated exchange of words with municipal officials on Friday, May 6.
Eric and Shivana live in a one bedroom flat, which they share with other family members. The couple said they were devastated to see the 3x6.5 metre extension they built, destroyed in front of their eyes.
So why did the municipality destroy it and how did it end in gunshots and pepper spray and blood?
According to Munisamy, the extension was built to allow more space for the family to live in. She said that the extension was built without proper plans and cost around R20 000.
On Friday morning, after receiving a complaint, members of the municipality and “a few law enforcement” officials showed up outside their flat.
A municipal official told her husband that they were there to break down the extension because it was illegal.
Munisamy and Eric said the official did not have any documentation or court orders on him that suggested he could go ahead with the demolition.
“He told us he was not obligated to give us or show us anything. He said he was in charge,” Munisamy said.
From 11am until about 1pm, a crowd formed outside Munisamy’s flat, filled with nearby residents who were rowdy over the municipality’s actions and stance towards the situation.
Eric said: “They spent about three hours here before they could break my house. We tried to reason with them, but it didn't work out for us.”
At this point, she said the municipality called in for back up. Before the structure could be demolished, she said between 80 to100 City officials surrounded their house, made up of Metro cops, SAPS, private security and housing department staff.
Most of them were armed with ammunition, rubber bullets, plastic bullets as well as tear gas.
“All of a sudden they started firing at us, they threw teargas to try and disperse the crowd. So many people were shot. They even hit our front window with a bullet, what if my child was inside and got hit? Would they have killed a child because of that house?” Munisamy asked.
Maggie Pillay, 54, who was on her way home during the chaos, said she was shot twice, in the arm and in her leg.
“It was completely inhumane and uncalled for. I felt targeted just for being here,” she said.
The extension was eventually destroyed and the city left behind the rubble for the residents to clean up.
On Tuesday, IOL asked City spokesperson, Mswakhe Mayisela, if he had seen the video circulating on social media and why the city resorted to such measures.
Mayisela replied, saying that they were not about to abdicate their duties when it comes to “land invasion”.
“On Friday our Land Invasion Unit had an operation at Chatsworth assisting the Human Settlements Department. They found people erecting illegal structures on the Council land, they were advised several times to stop building by housing personnel. Some were even served with notices to stop building. These were ignored.
“We then wanted to avoid occupation and discourage people to just build illegally on Council land. Three structures were demolished that were illegally erected on Council property.
“Please note that the City will at all times respond to any attempts to invade land. We have no reason to abdicate that responsibility. We are therefore calling upon the public to continue apprising us in the event of signs of land invasion.
“The City also calls on residents responsible for this unlawful conduct to desist from it. The City has a fully-fledged unit whose sole responsibility is to deal with land invasion. The demolitions were within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela said.
When shown the City’s response, the couple wanted to know why the city turned a blind-eye to all the shacks that are being built in Chatsworth.
“How come the city has 100 armed employees to destroy my house that was only 3x6.5 metres, when there are still people missing from the floods? How can they destroy my house, when they said it was so sad to see homes being destroyed during the floods?” Munisamy asked.