THE GREAT LAND DEBATE
THEY invade land illegally, not as a deliberate act of defiance against the government, but because the alternative has become unbearable.
They hope that erecting shacks on open pieces of land will remove them from the backyards of homeowners into the spotlight as a reminder to those in power that they too are waiting their turn for houses.
These are the thousands of families setting up homes for themselves, creating new informal settlements all around Nelson Mandela Bay.
Sitting outside his one-room shack in Motherwell in the scorching heat, Mthobeli Oliphant is one of thousands of residents considered to be occupying land illegally.
Oliphant, a father of two, said he had moved out of his Zwide family home because he wanted to create a home for his children, and as someone over 40 , he felt it was time to make his own way.
He is unemployed and relies on temporary construction jobs to survive.
“I know there’s a housing backlog but I also feel there’s an element of corruption in why we are not getting houses,” he said.
The Nomakanjani informal settlement resident said he had erected his shack there because he saw that the land was vacant.
There are no bulk services, which means the families do not have access to water, sanitation and electricity services.
“In order to feel like a proper and decent human being, one doesn’t need a brick house – just water, electricity, toilets and roads so that ambulances and the police can safely get to where they are needed,” Oliphant said.
Zukiswa Lose, 44, who was one of those evicted by the municipality last year from the land invaded in Wells Estate, said she was constantly fighting with her family and decided to build a home for herself and her children.
The fact that her eldest child was 19 was also a deciding factor, she said.
Like her neighbour, Lose said she would move to another area if the municipality provided land with services.
At Uitenhage’s Moeggesukkel informal settlement, Frank Miggels described how he had been living under horrendous conditions for the past 12 years.
Miggels said his family had become accustomed to living without basic services.
“We are tired of fighting with the municipality. We are tired of toyi-toying and we are tired of looting foreign shops,” he said.
“We’ve been stuck like this for a very long time. When it’s time to vote, politicians come here, bring food parcels and make all sorts of promises.”
Ronel Jonas, 30, said the Lapland informal settlement was the only home she had ever known, which was why she ignored calls by the municipality to move.
“I was born here, my parents live here, so when they tell us we’re occupying land illegally that doesn’t mean anything to me because we belong here.”
Johanna Pitt, 64, said she had been living in Lapland for nearly four years waiting for the human settlements department to identify land for them.
“It was heartbreaking when the municipality came here to demolish our homes in 2015 like we weren’t even human beings.”
Pitt said there were more than 400 families living in Lapland without any basic services.
She was aware the government would not build them houses as Lapland was situated on a floodplain, But she said they would move if given alternative space. “No one wants to live like this.”
LOOKING FOR HOMES: Squatters from the Bay give their views on land reform, including Mthobeli Oliphant, 41, left, and Yandisa Lotsho, 32, from Motherwell