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Reservoir Hills residents oppose eThekwini Municipality’s plan to build transit camp

A meeting at the weekend where residents of Reservoir Hills opposed the building on transit camps. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency.

A meeting at the weekend where residents of Reservoir Hills opposed the building on transit camps. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency.

Published May 6, 2022

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Durban: More than 800 residents from Reservoir Hills have signed a petition to stop displaced informal residents from being moved to a transit camp in the area.

This was after they found out the eThekwini Municipality had planned to use a vacant plot of land between Pemilton Avenue and Shannon Drive to temporarily house about 40 families comprising about 100 people left homeless by the recent floods.

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Residents, who had not been consulted, were taken by surprise when eThekwini dispatched backhoe loader on Saturday morning to clear a site near the decades-old Shree Mariamman Temple of Reservoir Hills.

Some residents managed to stop the backhoe loader from clearing the land and demolishing the temple.

Later that day, the Reservoir Hills Ratepayers Association called a community meeting at the Hindu Seva Semaj Centre.

Officials from the City as well as some informal residents affected by the flood attended.

The TLB that arrived at the site to clear land for a new transit camp.

Residents later signed a petition opposing the destruction of the temple and the establishment of a transit camp. They said what often started as a transit became a permanent informal settlement.

“A typical example is the New Germany Road informal settlement. Twenty years ago, the formal residents were told it is a transit/temporary camp yet today it has become a home to hundreds of informal residents,” reads the petition.

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“At present, the lower Shannon Drive area is surrounded by four informal settlements and if this transit camp is set up, it will become the fifth informal settlement.”

Residents said that by proceeding with transit camps, the government would be violating human rights legislation. This, they said, allowed all South Africans equality, human dignity, life, privacy, freedom and security.

“By allowing this informal settlement, we are taking part in denying the people their right to healthy, stable and sanitary living conditions.”

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The petition stated that the area earmarked for the transit camp was not conducive to people being temporarily housed, and that it would pose a danger to those already staying there because their health and safety would be compromised.

The displaced families initially lived in classrooms at Pemary Ridge Primary School. On Monday afternoon, they were taken to the Truro Hall in Westville.

Sanjith Hanuman, a resident, said the government should consult the community before it planned to move people into a transit camp.

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“We are good enough to show how much damage occurred in wards 23 and 25 but we are not good enough for the president, premier, or the mayor to come here and understand the plight of the people,” said Hanuman.

Johnny Govender, another resident, said consultation between the municipality and residents was necessary. He questioned what the City had done to relocate communities living on well-known flood plains.

“To me, the municipality should be charged with murder for the loss of life.”

Dr Kevin Naidu said that based on previous experience, the municipality could not be trusted.

“We don't want you to build on this new land. You have no control over it.”

In referring to the number of informal settlements in the area, he said: “You failed 19 times to take control of it and now you ask this community to trust you for number 20? It does not make sense.

“To our informal residents, we are not fighting you. We are just making sure that the municipality does not forget you so that no further lives are lost.”

Naidu said the City did not take the concerns of residents seriously.

“You have these meetings but go back and forget about us and that's where the problem is.”

Ish Prahladh, the chairperson of the Reservoir Hills Ratepayers’ Association, said those living in informal settlements should get proper housing.

“There are 19 informal settlements in the area and now, without consultation, the City wants to create the 20th. They are pushing informal (communities) into another flood plain and ablution facilities are yet again going to be a problem.

“They will leave you there for the next 25 years. We need to work together. The informal and the formal residents need to sit down, strategise and demand formal housing,” said Prahladh.

Shepherd Zulu, who lived in one of the informal settlements and lost his home in the floods, said families needed proper houses. “We cannot wait 25 years.”

Sbu Nkosi, who lives in an informal settlement, wanted to know why the residents were against the transit camp.

“We do not want to live like how we are living now. Where must we go if you block the transit camp? We understand the process of housing. You can't just go and build a house without following the necessary protocols. It takes time.”

Nkosi said nobody wanted the displaced families to live in transit camps for two or three years.

“I think we should hold the municipality accountable and give clear commitments as to the timeframes.”

Alicia Kissoon, a DA ward councillor for the area, said there was significant loss and damage suffered by those living on the area’s flood plain.

“There were people who lost their lives and we are still searching for a seven-year-old girl's body. During this disaster, there were many people that were displaced.”

She said she had asked the mayor and deputy mayor to attend the meeting but both had prior commitments. Kissoon said she was doing her best to find a solution.

“I’m here to fight for the rights of all residents and to make sure that our land is protected as well as to uphold the rights of those who lost their homes in the floods.”

Nkululeko Xulu, a representative from eThekwini Municipality's housing department, who monitors informal settlements in the city, said he understood the frustration of the formal residents.

He assured them that the transit camps would be temporary.

“One of the challenges we are experiencing is we don’t have many community facilities where we can accommodate these families. As the province has indicated, these are temporary units.

“Our main aim is to move the residents from the school as no parent would want their child to attend a school where adults are staying. So, we want to move them as quickly as possible.”

Xulu suggested that residents sit down with the government and hold them accountable – by giving them a deadline of when the families needed to be moved from the transit camps.

Xulu said the movement of those affected would be put on hold until proper consultations had been done.

On Tuesday, Yoga Gounden, the chairperson of the Shree Mariamman Temple, that is situated on the land identified for transit camps, said the religious site was more than 100 years old and originated in Newlands West.

“Due to the Group Areas Act, the temple needed to be moved. We found this site in Reservoir Hills and moved it here. The temple murthis (rock statues) at the site are at least 70 to 80 years old.”

In 2003, Gounden said, he applied to departments of the municipality to purchase the land but was unsuccessful.

“We applied in writing until 2012 and all we were met with was silence. We however still maintain the land as we continue to use it to pray. Our main prayer, the Shree Mariammen Prayer, will be in July. We are expecting about 300 people.”

He said when he heard that the temple could potentially be destroyed he became emotional.

“We as devotees were disheartened. The City did not care for our spiritual background. It showed total disrespect.”

Gounden said in time he wanted to turn the land into a multi-religious centre where people from different faiths would be free to worship.

Ivan Govender, a long-standing temple devotee, said the temple existed from the time of his grandfather.

“This temple is part of our heritage and our faith. To destroy it would be an absolute travesty. The City did not even consult with us. We are incredibly upset that they would want to take down a historical, religious site that means so much to the community.”

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