The poor of Blinkbonnie Road, Durban

2017-10-19 09:12
A woman sleeps in an open space after her shack was demolished. (Mxolisi Mngadi, News24)

A woman sleeps in an open space after her shack was demolished. (Mxolisi Mngadi, News24)

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Durban – Eighteen-year-old Mlungisi Mokoena should be in school, but here he is, on a weekday, guarding his one-room wooden shack topped with steel sheets.

He belongs to one of 50 families living in a green belt of forest on the corner of Wiggins and Blinkbonnie, outside  Durban.

"I don't have school uniform," Mokena says, looking a little sheepish.

Mlungisi says that in August, police and the city's land invasion unit entered the settlement with axes and shotguns. They demolished homes, burnt belongings and fired rubber bullets at resisters.

Mlungisi was shot in both his legs. His home was among those razed to the ground.

"I only had two pairs of pants, one shirt, and two pairs of socks, when they came they burnt it all down. I was left with just a school shirt and two left socks," he says.

Since August, his home has been demolished two more times.

Mlungisi's story is similar to the experiences of many families here.

Noncedile Diko, 58, a domestic worker employed at a middle-class family home down the road, returned from work to find her shack razed. She now lives under a collection of plastic and cardboard – branches hold up the sheets and her home resembles a teepee.

Nhlanhla Kubeka, 27, is still nursing a head injury after being shot at close range with rubber bullets. He says he is afraid to go find work, fearing he might return to an empty home.

Debris of razed homes litters the forest. Fractured steel sheets, broken pieces of wood, glass and garbage lie between drying clothes and dirty stoves.

Unemployed men gather in the shade of the "slinga" berry and mango trees and talk numbly. There is no electricity, save for that siphoned from power lines, and certainly no water. Shrubs are toilets.

Children play inside the large abandoned gutter pipes lying about; they taunt and tease each other, blind to the unfit surroundings.

Demand for housing

Land and housing remains a contentious issue in post-apartheid South Africa. According to a 2016 report by People's Environmental Planning (PEP), an NPO that supports communities living in informal settlements, about 12 million people are without adequate housing in the country.  

"According to current estimates, the housing backlog stands at about 2.1 to 2.5 million units," PEP said.

With the rural economy collapsing, the demand for housing close to the cities is on the rise – making vacant land on Blinkbonnie Road prime property.

The city has made it clear that it is not willing to tolerate land invasions.

Warren Burne, a councillor for the Westville area, told Al Jazeera that "the poor living conditions there were of their own making".

Earlier this year, a KwaZulu-Natal High Court judge ruled that a number of homes on the piece of land on Blinkbonnie Road were protected from being demolished.

The court identified 35 families who could live in the forest. It gave their homes numbers and marked their doors or walls with red paint.

The municipality says that the homes that were demolished are new settlements – a point of contention with the shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo. 

George Bonono, a spokesperson for the movement, told Al Jazeera that it was not clear where those living in the forest were now supposed to go.

It is little wonder that 18-year-old Mlungisi wants to complete school and become a lawyer. After the turmoil of the past five months, he has good reason to do so.

"I want to become a lawyer, so I can fight for peoples' rights.

"I just hope that this does not become something that will destroy me," he says.

Read more on:    durban  |  housing  |  service delivery

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