About 70 people were left homeless after their shacks were demolished in Tswelopele Extension 8, Tembisa, East of Johannesburg, on Thursday, 7 March.
The eviction carried out by the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department was the second one in the same week against the same occupation.
When GroundUp visited the area, people sat on heaps of damaged corrugated iron that what was once their homes. Furniture, clothes, shoes and other household items lay in the debris, some of it damaged by fire. During the evictions metro police set fire to the structures.
Florah Tjabadi, a community leader, said the land had been vacant for over a decade. They had moved there because they could no longer afford to pay rent. Most of them are unemployed. They occupied the land in August 2018 and had permission from ward 1 councillor Derek Thomson (DA).
The first attempt at evicting them was made on the public holiday of 16 December, four months into the occupation. Since then, there have been about ten attempts to evict them. Tjabadi said that on no occasion were they ever shown an eviction order even though they asked to see one.
Thomson told GroundUp: "There were 13 illegally erected shacks and I agreed that only 13 shacks should remain until Human Settlements solved the issue [of housing], as they had threatened harm to the owner of the crèche opposite them."
He said the number of shacks increased from 13 to over 100 in a week. Tjabadi said 13 stands were not enough given the needs of the surrounding community and she had increased it to 60.
Thobeka Mmango said they kept rebuilding because they had nowhere else to go. "This is our only hope ... It's painful ... I hoped that I finally had my own place to live, but then I just watched them destroy it," she said.
"I heard the cars coming and then I just heard people screaming ... I came outside to find someone [from the metro police] using a spade to break down my shack. I didn't even have time to move everything out because they told me to get out of the way," she said.
She said she fainted. "I was thinking about so many things at once. I was thinking about my child coming back from school to no home and my furniture that had been damaged and burnt. I had used my children's grant money to buy materials to build and now it was being destroyed in front of me."
"I didn't expect them to be so brutal. I was in shock. I couldn't even speak ... But the second time they came [on Thursday] I didn't faint because I knew how [the police] operated," said Mmango.
Accusations of corruption
Pointing to shacks on land nearby that had not been demolished, the occupiers allege that the Ekurhuleni Metro Police have been paid off to leave these shacks alone.
But Thompson said he intended to evict these land occupiers as well.
Spokesperson for the metro police Kobeli Mokheseng denied any allegations of officers taking bribes from the community. "That is illegal and we don't do that ... If they feel that corruption is taking place, they must go to the nearest police station and open a case of bribery and corruption."
"We went on site where the structures were illegal and did what we had to do ... As for the shacks on the other side [that were not demolished], I don't have an explanation for that," he said.
Mokheseng said he was not sure about the burning of household items during the eviction, but according to his knowledge the police only burnt rubble after the eviction. He confirmed that 50 shacks were demolished on Tuesday and another 22 shacks on Thursday. He said an eviction order or interdict was unnecessary if the land was owned by the municipality.
Houses promised in face of "critical shortage"
Councillor Thomson said the land belonged to the Ekurhuleni Municipality. He had instructed Human Settlements to evict the occupiers because the land was intended for 480 shacks for people from a neighbouring ward.
"There is a critical shortage of housing but that is not my competence ... All relocation and occupation of any shacks is done by the [provincial] human settlements department in conjunction with me," said Thomson. He confirmed that there was no eviction order or interdict.
Thomson said 300 bonded houses and 200 free standing RDP houses were being built in his ward. He said there were also about 900 RDP units in blocks of flats and a further 20 flats currently under construction.
"This is to address the housing backlog in Ekurhuleni ... It is a ten-year project," said Thomson. He said when complete there will be 13,000 RDP homes.