Home occupiers hit back at city over housing allocation
● 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 and Siboniso Msani in Mbhele’s house that she ’illegally occupied’.