A handful of residents evicted from a land occupation in Barcelona, Ekurhuleni, have vowed to abstain from voting in the 8 May general elections, accusing their councillor of wanting money for land.
Members of the group spoke to New Frame after the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) demolished and burned their shacks in February.
Lindiwe Jele, 44, says a strip of land allegedly goes for up to R40 000.
“We don’t have R40 000. We vote here, why must we buy these places when we vote? ... We don’t even want the councillor here or else we won't vote in Barcelona,” she says angrily.
Jele – who has two older children – lives with her parents and has lost faith that she will find employment. She moved to the site in an attempt to find a home for her family.
“We grew up here in Daveyton. If we are trying to find places for our children to live, we are abused. Why are we abused by the councillor like this?”
Resident Thabo Mohlala, 26, says that “as the youth, we don’t have jobs. We don’t have places to stay. Where can I get R30 000 for a stand when I don’t have a job?”
Some in the group claim the councillor has hired “gangsters” to intimidate and stop them from erecting shacks.
“He has an army fighting with us, killing the very youth that is the future here … And when you look here, we are peaceful … All we wanted were houses,” says Sphiwe Mandlazi.
Mandlazi, 27, says he did it for his baby daughter. “We are not doing this because we like to, there is a reason. We need a place, there isn’t a person who doesn’t want a home,” he says.
Lucky Luphondo, 22, says up to eight people can live in one 10m x 10m shack.
“This has been our home since 1994, so if he authorises the killing of people ... They are burning shacks. Why don’t they produce a document that says we are not supposed to be here?” asks Jele.
Jele is referring to the man after whom residents have named the land occupation, Steven Kau. Metro police allegedly shot and killed the 23-year-old man. His death has emboldened many to remain defiantly on the land now called Steve Kau Village.
“Steven's blood gave us the licence to live here. We are not moving,” says one.
An elderly man who asks not to be named is concerned about the brutal force of the police, adding that it is shameful that such brutality continues after the struggle to end apartheid.
“AboTata fought for democracy. Police used to kill us, the youth of 1976. It breaks my heart to see the police still killing people.
“They say people for the government and government for the people ... Why must they take people's belongings when they don’t provide people with what they want?” he frowns.
Residents say there have been fewer reports of crime and rape since they erected shacks on what used to be open veld.
“Children are raped here. There is a primary school here and the children raped live there,” says Mohlala, pointing to an adjacent field, “so they use this field as a shortcut to get home from school … People need to live here for this place to be safe.”
EMPD media liaison officer Kobeli Mokheseng says there is no need for a court order to enforce municipal by-laws. He says the instruction to evict came from council officials.
“Each and every open or unoccupied land on municipality grounds belongs to the City of Ekurhuleni unless indicated by a visible sign that it is privately owned and, under our by-laws, no one is allowed to invade unoccupied or open or vacant land without following the right procedures,” he says.
ANC Ward 26 councillor Manqoba Sarila has refuted the group’s allegations, saying it is not the first time he has heard them.
According to Sarila, an unidentified group is taking R150 from residents in exchange for land. “They are the ones who are doing that … I am not working with any gangster.”
Sarila says the residents are making these accusations because he is acting against “their corrupt activity”.
“I don’t do those things. I just do my job ... They are trying to hide their wrongdoings.”
The group says the R150 payments are for legal advice and representation.
No hope, no vote
The land was reserved for a school, says Sarila, with a request made during member of the mayoral committee Aubrey Nxumalo’s tenure to rezone it for human settlement. But the idea was not approved.
Some were injured and many lost their belongings during the February eviction.
“We asked to get our documents and clothing. They [metro police] told us that we don’t listen, we are rude, who told us to erect shacks here?” shouts a woman, livid that her documents burned.
An elderly man wants to know what is going to happen now that his ID book has been burned along with his shack. “It is almost the end of the month, how am I going to get my grant money?”
A woman interjects, “We are just not going to vote, simple.”