Home oc­cu­piers hit back at city over hous­ing al­lo­ca­tion

Sunday Times - - News Family Feud - By MATTHEW SAVIDES

● Fik­ile Mb­hele has stared down her lo­cal coun­cil­lor, mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials and even metro po­lice, and she has re­mained un­moved, lit­er­ally — flat-out re­fus­ing to leave the low-cost house she il­le­gally moved into seven months ago.

She re­mains de­fi­ant in spite of a court case that could see her and 28 oth­ers kicked to the kerb by the eThek­wini mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

“No, we need these houses. We are not go­ing any­where,” she told the Sun­day Times this week.

Mb­hele, from Um­lazi in the south of Dur­ban, is one of a group of peo­ple who, just be­fore New Year’s Day, in­vaded a low-cost hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in the area. They have since moved their fur­ni­ture and ap­pli­ances into the small hous­ing units.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity has gone to court to kick them out, say­ing that they “un­law­fully in­vaded” and “il­le­gally oc­cu­pied” the homes.

But, while she ad­mits they were not given per­mis­sion to move in, Mb­hele, seated in the house, oc­ca­sion­ally stir­ring a pot of food on a one-plate stove, said she felt she had no choice but to move in.

“We de­cided we had to come here and take these houses, and se­cure the houses from out­siders,” said Mb­hele, who is un­em­ployed and has a child.

This is a com­mon re­frain among the oc­cu­piers, and one con­tained in court pa­pers filed by the Le­gal Re­sources Cen­tre in re­sponse to the evic­tion ap­pli­ca­tion.

The claim is that the res­i­dents are con­stantly over­looked when it comes to hous­ing, with al­le­ga­tions that three pre­vi­ous devel­op­ments did not ben­e­fit them, that peo­ple from out­side the sur­round­ing area were given oc­cu­pa­tion and even that coun­cil­lors were in­volved in sell­ing houses.

An­other res­i­dent, Si­bon­iso Msani, said peo­ple were scared that the same thing would hap­pen again. “These peo­ple are des­per­ate. We saw what was hap­pen­ing in other sec­tions [of Um­lazi] and we didn’t want the same to hap­pen here.”

Msani added that “when we saw the bull­doz­ers here” they tried to find out who the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the project would be, but got no an­swers.

This is a key part of the LRC’s fight-back against the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s case: it ar­gues that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity does not have a hous­ing ben­e­fi­ciary list and that its hous­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion is sub­stan­dard. It also ar­gues that res­i­dents were not con­sulted.

In court pa­pers, LRC lawyer Thabiso Mb­hense ar­gues that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity breached the con­sti­tu­tion and other pieces of leg­is­la­tion in the han­dling of this hous­ing project — and hous­ing in the city in gen­eral.

Pa­pers filed last week claim that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity uni­lat­er­ally did away with hous­ing al­lo­ca­tion lists, ex­cluded the re­spon­dents from the hous­ing ben­e­fi­ciary lists, and had failed to de­velop a hous­ing al­lo­ca­tion pol­icy in line with cur­rent leg­is­la­tion.

Es­sen­tially, he ar­gues that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is to blame for the sit­u­a­tion.

In the court pa­pers, Mb­hele ex­plains her liv­ing sit­u­a­tion be­fore she moved into the coun­cil house.

“The res­i­dents of the set­tle­ment were oc­cu­py­ing four-room houses to­gether with their par­ents, aunts, cousins, neph­ews and nieces. The res­i­dents of the set­tle­ment have their own chil­dren and part­ners . . . some were sleep­ing un­der the ta­bles, to­gether with their chil­dren and part­ners.”

In the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s pa­pers, le­gal ad­viser Cle­ment Xulu asks the court to evict the res­i­dents within 48 hours of the rul­ing. He writes in an af­fi­davit that var­i­ous at­tempts to get them to move out have been un­suc­cess­ful.

“To date, the re­spon­dents re­main in un­law­ful oc­cu­pa­tion of the houses and they have all re­fused to va­cate the houses so that the de­vel­op­ment of the project could pro­ceed and be com­pleted. The ex­is­tence of the re­spon­dents in the houses is prevent­ing the con­trac­tor from con­tin­u­ing with the project.

“I do not be­lieve that there are com­pelling rea­sons of eq­uity and jus­tice which mit­i­gate that the re­spon­dents be al­lowed to con­tinue to re­main in oc­cu­pa­tion of the houses,” he writes.

We de­cided we had to come here and se­cure the houses from out­siders

Fik­ile Mb­hele

Um­lazi res­i­dent

Pic­ture: Thuli Dlamini

Fik­ile Mb­hele and Si­bon­iso Msani in Mb­hele’s house that she ’il­le­gally oc­cu­pied’.

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